Good Neighbor Policy Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A new articulation of U.S. relations with Latin American nations replaced military interventionism with mutual respect and cooperation.

Summary of Event

In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised that the United States would be a good neighbor. After he applied the term specifically to relations with Latin America and pledged his opposition to armed intervention, the phrase “good neighbor” came to be identified with his policies toward Latin America. Some questioned U.S. intentions, however, because of the country’s interventionist history. The United States had used its military to intervene in Central American and Caribbean affairs after the Spanish-American War (1898). Asserting its right to exercise a police power in the Americas under the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. presidents sent troops into Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Panama to stabilize conditions, prevent European intervention, and protect the lives and property of U.S. citizens. After a brief incursion in 1909, a contingent of U.S. Marines was stationed in Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933. [kw]Good Neighbor Policy (Mar. 4, 1933-1945) Good Neighbor Policy Diplomacy;Good Neighbor Policy [g]Latin America;Mar. 4, 1933-1945: Good Neighbor Policy[08300] [g]United States;Mar. 4, 1933-1945: Good Neighbor Policy[08300] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 4, 1933-1945: Good Neighbor Policy[08300] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 4, 1933-1945: Good Neighbor Policy[08300] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Mar. 4, 1933-1945: Good Neighbor Policy[08300] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Good Neighbor Policy Hull, Cordell Hoover, Herbert Welles, Sumner

Seeking to prevent future interventions, several Latin American jurists proposed the adoption of doctrines against intervention, the use of force, and the use of diplomatic recognition as means of protecting the interests of foreign nations in Latin America or changing Latin American governments. At the Sixth Inter-American Conference, held in Havana, Cuba, in 1928, the Latin American representatives tried, but failed, to obtain U.S. support for a nonintervention resolution. Meanwhile, in the United States, more and more citizens opposed the policy of sending troops to protect U.S. interests in Central America and the Caribbean.

In 1928, President-elect Herbert Hoover made a series of goodwill trips to Latin America, and in 1930 he repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. Resisting pressure to intervene to protect U.S. investors, Hoover prepared to withdraw troops from Haiti and removed the marines from Nicaragua. His goodwill gestures were undermined, however, by the Great Depression and the high duties imposed by the Tariff Act of 1930.

On March 4, 1933, in his inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that in foreign policy he wished to “dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor . . . who respects himself and . . . the rights of others.” After his inauguration, Roosevelt undertook specific measures to improve relations with Latin America and to stimulate economic recovery. In 1933, at the Seventh International Conference of American States, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Secretary of State Cordell Hull accepted the principle of nonintervention and signed a convention declaring that no state had the right to intervene in the internal and external affairs of other countries. Hull also proposed the reduction of tariffs and trade agreements to stimulate trade. In 1936, at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace in Buenos Aires, the United States signed an expanded resolution that renounced intervention and agreed to the principle of consultation in the event of a war between American nations or an external threat to the peace of the Americas.

In 1933, Roosevelt had also dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles to Cuba, where Welles orchestrated the resignation of dictator Gerardo Machado. When Welles’s personally designated successor was overthrown by a sergeant’s revolt, Welles persuaded Roosevelt to withhold recognition from the nationalistic government of Ramón Grau San Martín. With U.S. naval vessels offshore, this policy of nonrecognition encouraged a second revolt, and a series of presidents controlled by Colonel Fulgencio Batista was brought to office.

Despite his clear interference in Cuban politics, President Roosevelt had refrained from using armed force in Cuba, and in 1934 the United States and Cuba agreed to the removal of the Platt Amendment (1901), which, following the Spanish-American War, gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuba when its independence was threatened and the right to maintain a military base on the island. Similar agreements were created with Panama and the Dominican Republic. The United States and Cuba also signed reciprocal trade agreements that lowered duties on Cuban sugar, guaranteed access to the U.S. market for Cuban agricultural exports, and reduced duties on hundreds of U.S.-manufactured goods exported to Cuba.

When Bolivia, Mexico, and Venezuela threatened to nationalize their oil industries in 1937 and 1938, the Good Neighbor Policy faced a direct challenge. President Roosevelt resisted pressures to intervene, and he also accepted the right of these countries to seize the foreign companies’ assets or increase government revenues from their operations as long as they made immediate and just compensation. Roosevelt continued to provide economic assistance and, after a brief suspension, signed new trade agreements with Bolivia and Mexico. By refusing to intervene to protect the oil companies, Roosevelt demonstrated his adherence to the principle of nonintervention and his Good Neighbor Policy. Furthermore, in addition to renouncing the use of military force in the Caribbean and Central America, the United States provided credits to struggling countries through the newly created Export-Import Bank Export-Import Bank[Export Import Bank] and negotiated a series of reciprocal trade agreements to lower barriers to trade between the United States and Latin America.

By renouncing intervention and withdrawing its troops, the United States demonstrated its commitment to its Good Neighbor Policy and fostered an era of good relations and cooperation between Latin America and the United States. In a series of agreements drawn up at prewar conferences, nations of Latin America and the United States agreed to cooperate and form an alliance of mutual protection. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all Latin American countries except Argentina joined the Allied war effort, cracking down on Axis sympathizers and supplying strategic materials, airbases, and troops for the Allies. Although Argentina was eventually pressured to declare war on the Axis countries, public efforts by the U.S. ambassador to influence or change the government in Buenos Aires not only backfired but also raised the specter of past interventions.

While the unity and cooperation between the United States and Latin America survived the war, Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, and the departure of the architects of the Good Neighbor Policy from the State Department contributed to the policy’s demise. Differences between Latin America and the United States had already surfaced at wartime and postwar conferences, and with the advent of the Cold War, the United States turned its attention to the economic recovery of Europe and the defense of the West.


After 1945, therefore, Latin American requests for economic cooperation and assistance were ignored until the triumph of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba in 1959. When the Central Intelligence Agency conducted a covert action to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954, it appeared that the United States had abandoned nonintervention in favor of military intervention and protection of U.S. companies. Subsequent attempts to overthrow Castro, U.S. invasions of the Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Panama, the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile, and the support of military forces in Central America also violated the principle of nonintervention and the Good Neighbor Policy. However, with the collapse of communism in 1991, successive U.S. administrations decreased the nation’s interventionist stance.

The Good Neighbor Policy did not promote freedom and democracy. After the removal of U.S. troops, the commanders of the national guards trained by the United States seized power and established long-term dictatorships. Since these regimes guaranteed stability, protected foreign investments, and were anticommunist, they received U.S. economic and military aid. Although the reciprocal trade agreements stimulated trade, they also reinforced a dependency on the U.S. market and prevented economic development through diversification. Nevertheless, the Good Neighbor Policy fostered a period of goodwill among the nations of the Western Hemisphere, as well as a sense of political hegemony against potential aggressors. The United States demonstrated its growing role in world affairs and safeguarded its long-range interests in both the economic well-being and political autonomy of its Latin American neighbors. Good Neighbor Policy Diplomacy;Good Neighbor Policy

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aguilar Monteverde, Alonso. Pan-Americanism from Monroe to the Present: A View from the Other Side. Translated by Asa Zatz. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968. A Latin American view of Pan-Americanism and U.S. imperialism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blasier, Cole. The Hovering Giant: U.S. Responses to Revolutionary Change in Latin America, 1910-1985. Rev. ed. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985. A study of U.S. reactions to revolutionary movements in Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Grenada, and Nicaragua.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gellman, Irwin F. Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933-1945. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. A thorough study that emphasizes the significance and originality of Roosevelt’s policy and the contributions of Cordell Hull and Sumner Welles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kirk, John M., and Peter McKenna. Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997. The United States tends to dominate most discussions of relations between Cuba and its northern neighbors, so this in-depth treatment of Canada’s foreign policy is a welcome one.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. A critical history of U.S. policy that views conflicts as a consequence of U.S. policy and externally imposed conditions of dependency.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">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. A thorough discussion of the complicated relationship between the Roosevelt administration and the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wood, Bryce. The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985. Traces the gradual dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy after the death of Roosevelt, ending with the U.S. intervention in Guatemala in 1954.

Founding of the International Sanitary Bureau

Platt Amendment

Tacna-Arica Compromise

Reciprocal Trade Act

Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace

Mexico Nationalizes Foreign Oil Properties

Categories: History Content