Guest Column: No gunboat diplomacy in the 21st century

Where is gunboat diplomacy when you need it? Recently, the Venezuela crisis afforded Russia another opportunity to strengthen its grip on the country. To that end, Russia has dispatched its military (99 military officers) and its equipment, including Sukhoi fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems, to the tiny republic.

Russia also has acted to ship Venezuelan crude to India for processing and has offered to build a plant in Maracay for producing rifles. These actions are creating problems for the Trump administration, which is trying force Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuela president, from office.

The Trump administration, however, has not delivered on its promise to unseat Maduro. The U.S. has relied on the hope that the Venezuelan military would rise up in a coup against the government. This has not happened and probably won’t, because Maduro has used Cuban troops to clamp down on the military.

While John Bolton, national security advisor, has characterized the crisis as a direct threat to the international peace in the region, the U.S. has done little to change this threat, aside from economic sanctions. One would think that President Trump’s friendly relationship with Putin, president of Russia, would have discouraged him from these unfriendly actions. In fact, Trump’s relationship perhaps may have encouraged Putin’s actions, thinking he could get away with his blatant conduct.

The U.S. response has lacked the zeal that characterized its response in former times. In the 19th century, the U.S. announced the Monroe Doctrine to warn about European colonization in Latin America. The doctrine was used constantly throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to warn countries about aggrandizement in Latin America.

A naval blockade by the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy sparked the Venezuelan crisis of 1902-1903 when President Cipirano Castro refused to pay debts to the European powers. Castro caved and agreed to submit the claims to arbitration, but Germany balked. President Roosevelt used the larger American fleet and threatened war if the Germans landed.

This event led Roosevelt to establish the corollary to the Monroe Doctrine asserting a right to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of Latin American countries. The corollary was later abolished.

The U.S. used gunboat diplomacy to annex Panama, as well as the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, and at various times in the 20th century. Speaking of Vera Cruz, my father had this tattoo on his arm referring to Vera Cruz, and I never did understand it as a child, but later on in graduate school, the tattoo made sense to me. He was there making history.

Before the second World War, the American republics confirmed the “non-transfer principle” of the Monroe Doctrine in the Act of Havana in 1940, thus continuing the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine.

Given recent events in Venezuela and the weak U.S. response, it seems that the Monroe Doctrine is dead. The Trump administration has allowed Russia a firm hold in Venezuela. Maduro also announced a Chinese gift of 65 tons of medical supplies. Now with the Chinese also helping, it appears that Maduro’s hand has been strengthened.

Last December, two nuclear-capable, long-range Tu-60 bombers arrived in Caracas, thus showing that Russia had the capability of reaching the U.S. These bombers took part in joint military exercises and boosted the morale of the Venezuela military.

While the U.S. has enacted severe economic sanctions on Venezuela, it, nevertheless, has allowed the Russians to gain a strong foothold there. Trump’s relationship with Putin is a failure if it could not prevent this Russian foothold and a weakened American foreign policy.

Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View who has taught international relations for 35 years.

By Perry J. Mitchell
Special to the Coastal Point