CHAPTER XVI. Problems Of The Caribbean
As the acquisition of the Philippines made all Far Eastern questions of importance to the United States, so the investment of American millions in a canal across the Isthmus of Panama increased popular interest in the problems of the Caribbean. That fascinating sheet of water, about six hundred miles from north to south by about fifteen hundred from east to west, is ringed around by the possessions of many powers. In 1898 its mainland shores were occupied by Mexico, British Honduras, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela; its islands were possessed by the negro states of Hayti and the Dominican Republic, and by Spain, France, Great Britain, Holland, and Denmark. In the Caribbean had been fought some of the greatest and most significant naval battles of the eighteenth century and, when the canal was opened, across its waters would plough a great share of the commerce of the world. As owner of the canal and professed guardian of its use, the United States was bound to consider its own strategic relation to this sea into which the canal opened.
Gradually the situation which existed in 1898 has changed. Spain has been removed from the Caribbean. Of her former possessions the United States holds Porto Rico; Cuba is independent, but is in a way under the protection of the United States, which possesses on her coast the naval station of Guantanamo. The American treaty with the new republic of Panama practically created another American protectorate, and the fortification of the canal gave the United States another strategic position. The negotiation for the purchase of the Danish islands has been completed successfully. But these obvious footholds are of less importance than the more indirect relationships which the United States has been steadily establishing, through successive Administrations, with the various other powers located on the borders of the Caribbean.
The Spanish War did not lull the suspicions of the United States regarding the dangerous influence which would be exerted should the ambitions of European powers be allowed a field of action in the American continents, and the United States remained as intent as ever on preventing any opportunity for their gaining admittance. One such contingency, though perhaps a remote one, was the possibility of a rival canal, for there are other isthmuses than that of Panama which might be pierced with the aid of modern resources of capital and genius. To prevent any such action was not selfish on the part of the United States, for the American canal was to have an open door, and there was no economic justification for another seaway from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
There might, however, be some temptation in the political and military influence which such a prospective second canal could exert. Negotiations were begun, therefore, with all the transcontinental powers of Central America, offering liberal compensation for the control of all possible canal routes. These negotiations have been long drawn out and are only lately coming to fruition. They have served, however, to taboo all projects by other nations, and one of these treaties negotiated with Colombia, but not yet ratified, holds out the prospect of winning back her friendship which was so seriously alienated by the recognition of the republic of Panama by the United States.
In one respect the changing world has rendered quite obsolete the pronouncements of President Monroe. In the case of Japan there has grown up a great power which is neither European nor American. American policy in the Far East has made it abundantly evident that the United States does not regard the self-imposed limitations upon its activity as extending to Asia. In her case there is lacking the quid pro quo by which the United States has justified its demand that European powers refrain from interfering in America. By no means, however, has the Government admitted the right of Asia to impinge on the American continents.
In 1912 Washington heard that Japan was negotiating with Mexico for a concession on Magdalena Bay. Senator Lodge promptly introduced a resolution in the Senate, declaring that "when any harbor or other place in the American continents is so situated that the occupation thereof for naval or military purposes might threaten the communication or the safety of the United States, the Government of the United States could not see, without grave concern, the possession of such harbor or other place by any corporation or association which has such relation to another government, not American, as to give that government practical power of control for naval or military purposes - " This resolution, which passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 4, undoubtedly represented American sentiment, at least with regard to the foreign occupation of any territory bordering on the Caribbean or on the Pacific between Panama and California.
A more subtle danger lay in the financial claims of European powers against the various states in Central America, and the possibility of these claims being used as levers to establish permanent control. Most of these foreign demands had a basis in justice but had been exaggerated in amount. They were of two kinds: first, for damage to persons or property resulting from the numerous revolutions and perpetual brigandage which have scourged these semitropic territories; second, for debts contracted in the name of the several countries for the most part to conduct revolutions or to gild the after-career of defeated rulers in Paris, - debts with a face value far in excess of the amount received by the debtor and with accumulated interest in many cases far beyond the capacity of the several countries to pay. The disputes as to the validity of such claims have been without end, and they have furnished a constant temptation to the cupidity of individuals and the ambition of the powers.