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COLUMN: Bolton is reviving old rhetoric and old policies on Latin America



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National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks to the media before the arrival of President Donald Trump during a rally Feb. 18 at Florida International University in Miami. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

The administration of President Donald Trump is not known for its honesty and transparency. But when it comes to Latin America, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton makes no attempt to hide his imperial designs.

Speaking to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in Miami earlier this month, Bolton said, “Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”

The Monroe Doctrine is a principle in U.S. foreign policy dating back to an 1823 speech by President James Monroe. It said the United States would oppose European colonial ventures in the Western Hemisphere. Its practical meaning came to be the notion the U.S. has the right to run Latin America’s affairs.

The Monroe Doctrine has been used as a justification for countless U.S.-sponsored coups, invasions, covert attacks and intelligence operations in the region. Its mention brings up bad memories for people in countries that fell victim to those policies.

However, setting aside the absurdity and offensiveness of Bolton’s statement, the honesty is almost refreshing. Most American elected officials use much more enlightened, euphemistic language to talk about U.S. interference in Latin America, even when that interference is just as robust as it is under Trump, Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Bolton’s rhetoric is not empty. The statement on the Monroe Doctrine was made as part of a new policy announcement ushering in new sanctions on Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Bolton took aim at the leaders of those three countries throughout his speech. While he has zero new policy ideas, he has no shortage of snappy nicknames for his enemies. At various times, he referred to those heads of state as the “three stooges of socialism” and their governments as the “sordid triangle of terror” and the “troika of tyranny.”

His only policy ideas are to do more of what has already failed: strangle the three countries’ economies with sanctions in the hope their governments will crumble.

Particularly in the case of Cuba, consider the absurdity of adding new sanctions. Following Fidel Castro’s overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, the U.S. slapped sanctions on Cuba for five and a half decades with no apparent positive results. The Obama administration finally realized the futility of maintaining such a long-failed policy and began to thaw relations in 2014.

Once Trump took office, he wasted no time in reversing this progress. Bolton is doing more of the same.

It’s no surprise that glorifying failed policies would be a theme in Bolton’s speech for the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. The organization’s entire reason for existence is celebrating one of the most comically unsuccessful invasions in the history of warfare — the 1961 CIA-sponsored attempt by a brigade of Cuban exiles to topple what was actually a widely popular government.

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela pose no serious security threats to the U.S., and there is no justification for the Trump administration’s hostile posturing directed at them. The Monroe Doctrine should have died long ago, along with Bolton’s terrible policy ideas.

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