This post has germinating for a long time; Britain’s recent step backwards in voting to leave the E.U. has moved it to the top of the pile. It grows out of some previous posts, including this one about Mexico and Mexican immigration, this one about the American flag and patriotism, and this one about Magna Carta, but many more besides.
The inspiration for this radical fantasy may have come to me in the late 90s or so, when I saw a facsimile of a 100 year old newspaper (probably Pulitzer’s New York World or Hearst’s New York Journal) which playfully purported to be a paper from 100 years in the future. It was one of those sci-fi visions which posited a sky full of hot air balloons and pedestrian bridges connecting all the skyscrapers on upper floors. Like this:
But what really caught my eye was that the writer envisioned a late 20th century U.S. that had grown far larger in the number of states it had incorporated: 70? 80? 100? And that these additional states included the countries of Latin America. Now, this was a frivolous entertainment article hatched during the McKinley/Roosevelt era. Its underlying assumptions would undoubtedly smack of Imperialism to us. They were probably picturing some sort of “Hawaii annexation” model, and probably one in which the newly incorporated territories now spoke English.
But it does suggest other possibilities. My Modest Proposal would be for a more politically integrated western hemisphere, something on the model of the European Union, and which would build on the international cooperation begun with FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy, the Organization of American States, JFK’s Alliance for Progress, NAFTA & CAFTA, and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. The idea would thus be more like a merger than a hostile takeover. But it would also build on the ever-evolving architecture of human rights guarantees the U.S. has been instrumental in developing since its inception as well as the increasing liberalization in the governments of our southern neighbors in recent decades. At the same time, it would be a sort of tabula rasa, without the baggage of past failures. Its founding documents would include language declaring the political equality and human rights of all people without regard for gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference. In this (utopian) vision, America’s influence would be limited to ensuring human rights for all citizens in the new greater polity. It would not be about cultural dominance. It would be about culture exchange. Spanish states would remain Spanish. Certain territories with presently troublesome statuses, such as Quebec and Puerto Rico, would have an opportunity for long-sought independence and equality among nations, but within the structure of the super-state. My radical vision is the opposite of Trump’s: it presumes open borders amongst the states, with a concomitant end to the disastrous Drug War. Decriminalization of the drug industry would take gangs and gang violence from South (and North) of the border out of the proposed equation. The new entity would not be the “U.S.A.”, but something “post-American” and pan-American.
For reference, here’s a little on the history of America’s close relationships with many of its southern neighbors. I think you will find much of it (as I did) eye-opening:
Puerto Rico — The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American war (1898) and have been in a kind of political limbo ever since. For years, polls and plebescites had revealed the Puerto Rican people to be sort of evenly divided three ways amongst a desire for 1) independence, 2) American statehood, or 3) the status quo. The most recent referendum in November 2012 found Puerto Ricans 62% in favor of U.S. statehood. The ball has been in America’s court since then. But propositions to vote on the issue in both houses of Congress died in committee in 2014. Puerto Rico’s recent debt problems may make such discussions problematic at the moment.
Cuba — Prior to Castro’s calamitous revolution of 1959, no American neighbor was ever closer to the U.S. than Cuba. In the 19th century there were no less than four major movements towards incorporating the then-Spanish island into the U.S. (as had earlier happened with Florida, Spanish Louisiana and 40% of Mexico). President Polk, who’d presided over the Mexican-American war and also settled the Oregon question, attempted to buy Cuba in 1848. The Spanish did not want to sell. Six years later, Franklin Pierce tried once again, upping the price substantially. His secret plan, called the Ostend Manifesto, proved a political embarrassment for him, and it was dropped. (The year was 1854, it was clearly a plan to add another slave state to the U.S. and shift the balance of power). In 1859 a bill was introduced in to the Senate to purchase Cuba, with much the same agenda by Louisiana Senator John Slidell. In 1898, William McKinley , in an effort to peacefully solve the tensions with Spain, offered to buy Cuba once again, this time offering three times the amount Polk had. Spain once again refused, and so a war was fought to separate Cuba from her mother country.
Cuba was a U.S. territory from 1898 to 1902, and was then given independence, although America again occupied the country from 1906 to 1909, in 1912, and 1917 to 1922, and had a special treaty with them allowing U.S. dominance through 1934, and the U.S. has maintained a military base at Guantanamo Bay to this day. A close relationship between the countries existed until 1959. The much discussed “51st state” then became a satellite of the Soviet empire, a mere 90 miles from our border. Recent developments give hope for the future of freedom in that country.
Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic — the Dominican Republic was first considered for U.S. statehood in 1870, but Congress voted down the proposal. Small peace-keeping actions were fought there in 1903, 1904 and 1914, and America occupied the country from 1916 to 1924. U.S. troops were also sent there in 1965 to prevent a communist takeover of the sort that had roiled Cuba.
Haiti — The troubled history of this nation is a tragic illustration of the two-faced nature of America’s own founding. The American Revolution inspired the French Revolution, which in turn inspired the slave revolt in that nation’s island colony (1791-1804). America (which had its own slave economy) tended to support the status quo in the conflict, despite the fact that the entire explosion was essentially started by the words “All Men Are Created Equal”. It was many decades before the U.S. recognized Haitian independence or their government. The nation remained poor and full of turmoil. America occupied it from 1914 through 1934. America intervened there again following a coup in the early 1990s. Disaster relief following the 2010 earthquake increased the U.S. presence there yet again. It is frequently written about as a nation in bad need of international administration.
Mexico — General Winfield Scott got all the way to Mexico City during our war with Mexico, effectively conquering the entire country. Annexing all of Mexico was contemplated at the time (1848), but American leaders decided to settle for the 40% of Mexican territory that was either sparsely settled, or contained a substantial number of American settlers. America played a major role in the Mexican revolution (1910-1920), and the two countries (with Canada) have enjoyed unprecedentedly close relations since the signing of NAFTA in 1994.
Nicaragua — The U.S. got involved in a Nicaraguan civil conflict in 1909, and occupied the country from 1912 through 1933. And of course the U.S. covertly backed the contras vs. the Sandanistas in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. The U.S. also gave military support to El Salvador to prevent a communist takeover at the same time.
Honduras — American troops intervened in Honduras (mostly to protect American business interests) in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. A coup in 2009 has increased violence in the country substantially.
Panama — The creation of the nation of Panama was of course an American project, engineered by Teddy Roosevelt so that he could achieve his long-sought canal. Essentially he backed the secession of the Panamanian province from Columbia. But the way had been paved for this eventuality since an 1846 treaty. The Panama Canal Zone was American through 1979. Ten years later, the U.S. fought a small war there to depose dictator Manuel Noriega.
Venezuela — The U.S nearly fought a war with Germany, Britain and Italy in 1902-1903 to prevent a takeover of Venezuela by those countries for the collection of debts. The peace terms were dictated by the U.S. on behalf of Venezuela.
Chile — you could write a novel.
As for our neighbors to the north, both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 included attempts to take over Canadian territory; a war was nearly fought with England and Canada in the 1840 concerning America’s northwest boundary; the Quebecois have occasionally debated leaving Canada to join the U.S., and Newfoundland had a referendum concerning joining its southern neighbor in 1948. But so much is gained by choosing cooperation over conflict.
Racism and Imperialism undoubtedly underlay much of this history (although it must be said that in many cases, American troops occupied the countries to quell violence that was killing local citizens — essentially a humanitarian mission, as complicated as that is). Looked at it from another perspective, it seems to me that, conversely, racism is precisely what has kept these Southern neighbors OUT of the United States, a nation that began as a collection of English colonies, but whose Founding documents stipulate nothing of the kind, which is why and how America is today a diverse country of immigrants from every nation on earth. The world ought to be increasingly more politically and economically integrated. The way of Trump and Brexit is to stand athwart history yelling, “Stop!” At best their disastrous prescriptions will prove temporary, I feel. When the results are in and the policies are shown to be failures, the main trend of history will resume and the upshot will be in the direction of more, not less, political progress and integration.