Good Neighbor Policy

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GOOD NEIGHBOR POLICY. The Good Neighbor Policy grew out of the experience of the administrations of Presidents Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929–1933), but it was formally promulgated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945). In his 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt asserted, "In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others." The Good Neighbor Policy centered on nonintervention and noninterference. It also came to be associated with trade reciprocity. By the time Roosevelt was elected to the presidency, there was growing Latin American opposition to U.S. military intervention and some searching criticism of U.S. policy in the United States itself.

The Good Neighbor Policy flowed in significant measure from the calculation that U.S. goals in the Caribbean and Central America, in particular, could be better served by strengthening diplomatic and commercial relations instead of engaging in the gunboat diplomacy and military intervention of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the experience of Henry L. Stimson, Coolidge's special representative to Nicaragua in 1927, and other officials involved in U.S.-Nicaraguan relations in the late 1920s and early 1930s played an important role in the reorientation of U.S. policy in the region after 1933. U.S. marines had operated in Nicaragua from 1912 to 1925, helping to establish and train the Nicaraguan National Guard. Following a brief withdrawal, the United States sent marines back to Nicaragua in 1926 after renewed fighting between political factions there. Washington reacted in particular against the Mexican government's support for the political faction opposed to the pro-U.S. grouping. The second military intervention brought criticism from some politicians in the United States who thought that it undermined Washington's status and power in the eyes of Latin Americans and actually encouraged opposition to the United States in Latin America.

As the 1930s progressed, the Good Neighbor Policy was elaborated via a range of public treaties and private directives in the context of rising U.S. political and economic influence in the region. Despite the stated anti-interventionism of the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States operated within a structure of Pan-American cooperation that was often more interventionist than before. U.S. intervention in the 1930s, however, was carried out by ambassadors, foreign service officers, and economic and military advisers backed up by economic assistance and private capital, instead of by the marines and gunboats of the past. For example, Roosevelt established the Export-Import Bank in 1934 to loan money to U.S. exporters in order to facilitate overseas sales; by the end of the 1930s, it was funding projects throughout Latin America. The United States also negotiated reciprocal trade treaties with a number of Latin American republics that often had important political implications. The countries of Central America, for example, increased their imports from the United States in this period, becoming more dependent on U.S. agricultural products in particular, in exchange for political recognition and support. By the end of the 1930s, Washington had also set up new structures linking the U.S. military with its Latin American counterparts.

The Good Neighbor Policy was, and often still is, viewed as successful for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it strengthened hemispheric relations in the lead up to, and during, World War II. However, Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy also gave direct and indirect support to dictatorships in the region. For example, Roosevelt and his successors provided sustained support for the authoritarian regimes of Anastasio Somoza (1936–1956) in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo (1930–1961) in the Dominican Republic, and Fulgencio Batista (1934–1958) in Cuba. This was a major contradiction of the Good Neighbor Policy, and it became more pronounced with the onset of the Cold War after 1945. The formal violation of Roosevelt's pledge of nonintervention, which was understood to mean the actual landing of U.S. soldiers, did not occur until troops were sent into the Dominican Republic in April 1965, where they remained as an occupation force until July 1966. However, in the context of the Cold War, the United States had already instigated or carried out a number of covert interventions in the 1950s and early 1960s. The most well known are probably the Central Intelligence Agency–orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and the unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, both of which involved the training and equipping of exiles and the provision of logistical or air support by the United States.


Gellman, Irwin F. Roosevelt and Batista: Good Neighbor Diplomacy in Cuba, 1933–1945. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973.

———. Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933–1945. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

Green, David. The Containment of Latin America: A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971.

Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.

Wood, Bryce. The Making of the Good Neighbor Policy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.

———. The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.

Mark T.Berger

See alsoCaribbean Policy ; Cuba, Relations with ; Dominican Republic ; Guatemala, Relations with ; Latin America, Relations with ; Nicaragua, Relations with .