Painting of President Truman in a military uniform holding a kneeling revolutionary in chains

The Good Neighbor Policy (La politica del buen vecino)

The Good Neighbor Policy, first espoused by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, marked a major shift in US relations with Latin America. The policy replaced forcible intervention with economic and cultural programming designed to strengthen relations and encourage interdependency between the USA and Latin America.

In the 19th century, the United Stated pursued a territory grabbing, military interventionist policy towards its Latin American neighbors. This approach led to the war with Mexico in the 1840’s, which resulted in the annexation by the US of almost half of Mexico’s land, the 1901 Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution which virtually transformed Cuba into a US protectorate, and the 1903 appropriation of the Panama Canal under the guise of the US aiding Panama’s independence from Colombia. Many other military interventions on the continent, especially in the Caribbean, led to great distrust and dislike of the United States by its neighbors, who began to view the US as “the menace of North American imperialism.”

This policy began to shift with President Woodrow Wilson in the 1910’s, who believed that the United States should not intervene in the affairs of other nations, and that the US should develop mutually beneficial relations with its neighbors. A larger shift came after 1927 with the Ambassadorship to Mexico of Dwight D. Morrow, who promoted economic and cultural exchange, and fostered mutual understanding. His initiatives transformed the relationship between the two nations and changed the way many North Americans viewed their southern neighbors. In 1936, the US officially agreed to bar military interventions in Latin America. Trust and diplomacy within the region quickly improved. The swift success of this policy shift is reflected in the commitment by all Latin American countries (with the exception of Argentina) to the war effort in support of the allies, and by their refusal to treat with the Axis powers.

The Good Neighbor Policy began to falter during the Cold War as the United States’s fight against communism put it at odds with the socialist tendencies of many Latin American nations. In the post-war years, the US reverted to earlier policies, including military intervention.

In Siqueiros’s painting, The Good Neighbor Policy, the artist is in actuality depicting Dollar Diplomacy, a derogative term applied to the US tactic of strengthening its influence over foreign policy by leveraging its financial resources. As described in the detailed analysis of this painting that renowned Siqueiros scholar Dr. Irene Herner wrote for the gallery, Siqueiros’s chosen title is a sardonic comment on President Harry S. Truman’s inability to remain a ‘good neighbor’ when the neighbor’s interests do not align with his own. Dr. Herner calls the work a mural painting due to its size and technique, and recognizes it as one of Siqueiros’s most important political portraits.