Fri. May 17th, 2024


Manifest Destiny-Alexis Rockman

By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

Want to move to a nice tropical location where the land is cheap the lifestyle is relaxed? What if the U.S. was pushing its people south and throughout the world in an effort to inhabit countries, change their policies and purchase these lands as territories?

History of U.S. Acquisitions

-Guano islands

On August 18th, 1856, the Guano Islands Act, passed. It allowed the U.S. to claim unoccupied islands containing guano deposits. More than 50 islands were eventually claimed, but here are some key islands that fell into that group:

Baker Island, Howland Island, and Navassa Island were annexed in under its provisions in 1857. Today ownership of Navassa is disputed between the U.S. and Haiti. Johnston Atoll was claimed by the U.S. and Hawaii in 1858; the U.S. claim became undisputed in 1898 after the annexation of Hawaii. Midway Atoll was discovered and claimed in 1859 and formally annexed 1867. Kingman Reef was claimed in 1856 and annexed in 1922. Jarvis Island was claimed in March 1857 and annexed in 1858, abandoned in 1879, and reclaimed in 1935.

An even more complicated case probably unresolved until now seems to be the Serranilla Bank and the Bajo Nuevo Bank. In 1971, the U.S. and Honduras signed a treaty recognizing Honduran sovereignty over the Swan Islands.

(Source: Wikipedia, United States Territorial Acquisitions)

We all know that the U.S. also purchased Hawaii and Alaska in the late 1800s, thereby making them the 49th and 50th states. But how did we acquire the Spanish colonies, like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines?

History has taught us that we purchased these colonies from Spain after the Spanish-American War in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. It’s the reason they vote in our elections. But was this the end of U.S. expansionism in the world?

No! In the early 1900s, the U.S. also picked up the Panama Canal Zone, the Virgin Islands and the Marshall Islands, but they later ceded from the U.S.; becoming independent of us and leaving only the U.S. Virgin Islands as a reminder of those claims.

So, the U.S. has a lengthy history of imperialistic expansionism. But could this be happening again, today?

Trends in expatriation

Current statistics show that the majority of expatriates originate from the United States.

During the latter half of the 20th century, expatriation was dominated by professionals sent by their employers to foreign subsidiaries or headquarters. Starting at the end of the 20th century globalization created a global market for skilled professionals and leveled the income of skilled professionals relative to cost of living while the income differences of the unskilled remained large. The cost of intercontinental travel had become sufficiently low such that employers not finding the skill in a local market could effectively turn to recruitment on a global scale.


But what drew many expatriates to relaxed tropical or Latin American locations was the cost of building one’s ‘castle.’ Simply, real estate prices were so low that an expatriate could live the luxury lifestyle they knew they could never afford inside of the U.S., unless they discovered a way to become one of the rich and famous.

Retiring in Costa Rica or Nicaragua

For those thinking of investing in Nicaragua as expats, it might be wise to read the following: Gringo Land Speculators In Nicaragua are Sandinista Apologists, by Gueguense.

I know of several Nicaraguans colleagues that will NOT retire in Nicaragua. They already experienced the chaos and confiscations of the Sandinistas .They will not lose the nest eggs that cost them sweat, blood, and lots of tears.

One of these friends bought a large estancia in Uruguay for a fraction of the cost of Nicaragua’s overpriced real estate, and without the headaches of fearing that your land will be confiscated or occupied by Sandinista thugs in the middle of the night.

My beef with gringo land speculators is long standing. No, I did not get swindled, as I would not buy anything from these scum.

These people have no scruples. They destroy communities in the long run long after they have repatriated their profits. In Nicaragua it is common knowledge that these amoral folks pay protection money to the Sandinistas at all levels. Many of them do business with them and serve as strawmen. Because they have to rely on Sandinista protection and patronage for their activities they essentially become their apologists.

When Sandinistas beat up innocent students or throw rocks and fire bullets at unarmed protestors these people say that they had it coming or that it was really provocateurs sullying the Sandinistas’ “good name”.

If you do not pay protection to the Sandinistas, particularly when you are a participant in certain land transactions, suddenly the DGI, MARENA, and the local mayor will start giving you trouble. “Aggrieved workers” will take over and loot your place, ad nauseam.

The speculators routinely pay hush money to the media and individual journalists to avoid the spotlight of their activities. It is all a cost of doing business.
Dangers to Expatriates

The Kelly Ann Thomas Story

This is a story about a home invasion robbery, according to Kelly Ann Thomas. She claims that two armed men entered her home, shot her husband in the arm and beat her, severely. They left with about $500, their passports, and her husband’s credit cards. At the time, she was considering leaving Nicaragua, because it was a second attempt. She stayed in Nicaragua; but this gives a hint of how American expansionism and the arrogance of wealthy Americans have been received in places like Nicaragua.

The Peter Christopher Story
Another story that provides insight into how wealthy expatriates are being received lies in the story of a man I befriended online, named Peter Christopher.

Peter tells his story of his experiences with his farm in Nicaragua:


“The most significant event happened two weeks ago. One Friday evening, I was sitting outside my house a little after seven. It was dark with no moon. A small light bulb from the solar power system was illuminating the outdoor kitchen. My little girl puppy “Wolf” was barking at a toad. My big boy dog “Bronco” was sleeping. I was eating toasted corn seeds. Supposedly, this corn was a local variety of popcorn, but I wasn’t favorably impressed.


Two guys came running in. How exciting, I thought – the first time in a year anyone had come to the farm at night. I thought maybe they were looking for gasoline or a tool to fix a vehicle or oxcart. Then when they were closer I looked more carefully. They had masks on and were holding machetes out towards me.

I was pushed, or fell, from of my chair, backed into a corner. I screamed at them in Spanish, “What do you want?”

The one in front said nothing, just advanced and made small slices at me with his machete. The one in back answered in Spanish, “Don’t speak.”

They were local people who knew they had to break my will in order to rob me properly. I did not want to have a broken will, though. I did not want to give them an option on my life. I struggled and got a hold of the machete of the one in front and then his hand. The one in back said, “What a son of a bitch.”

It was hard to get my attacker off balance, but after some struggling I tossed him behind me. I still had to run by the other guy to escape. I bolted as fast as I could. An awkward swing with a machete that caught my left arm. I kept running.”

Read more about Peter’s experience here.

The Costa Rica View

An American moves to Costa Rica and becomes irritated with having to pay a luxury tax for building a home in Costa Rica that he likely couldn’t afford in the U.S. Read the American expansionist’s view of paying a luxury tax for building in prime areas of Costa Rica:

Submitted by 802MARK on September 12, 2011 – 10:02pm

“OK so if the crime rate there doesn’t scare you away there are two other points that need to be looked into. One is a Luxury home tax you have to pay every year… you see they are out of money, so a while back they voted in a new law that was set up and pushed through. the idea was, you have money and have a nice home, and we have people here that live in well, dumps. so we want to take your money and use this to build our people a better home to live it. yeah you owe them don’t you.. well the law passed and it was only going to be a law for 10 years, after that it would be gone.. 2 things happen today,, first they voted to allow that tax to be forever…. and 2nd so far no one can show any of this money that has been paid in so far that went to build a single home… hummmm.. o and you have to hire someone to come out and tell you what your home is worth so you will know how much to pay!!!”
Wow! What a wonderful and gracious expatriate this person is. He feels slighted because his luxury tax paid for building a home he could never afford in the U.S. or Canada was not spent up to his expectations, in a country he isn’t even a citizen of? I’m sure the citizens of Costa Rica must be feeling his pain.

It’s these attitudes of entitlement that most likely cause some of the danger to these self righteous people. These same people are the ones who also complain about foreigners coming to the U.S. and expecting special treatment.

Surrendering U.S. Citizenship

Could this be why more Americans have given up their citizenship? In an article written by the New York Times, they found a growing number of overseas Americans were renouncing their citizenship over taxation and banking problems.


The Federal Register, the government publication that records such decisions, shows that 502 expatriates gave up their U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status in the last quarter of 2009. That is a tiny portion of the 5.2 million Americans estimated by the State Department to be living abroad.


Still, 502 was the largest quarterly figure in years, more than twice the total for all of 2008, and it looms larger, given how agonizing the decision can be. There were 235 renunciations in 2008 and 743 last year. Waiting periods to meet with consular officers to formalize renunciations have grown.

Anecdotally, frustrations over tax and banking questions, not political considerations, appear to be the main drivers of the surge. Expat advocates say that as it becomes more difficult for Americans to live and work abroad, it will become harder for American companies to compete.

(Source: More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship)

Once again, the discussion winds itself back the corporate competition, defining the reasons why Americans are giving up their citizenship. While this is a rather bold move, it is indeed an odd one.


Stringent new banking regulations — aimed both at curbing tax evasion and, under the Patriot Act, preventing money from flowing to terrorist groups — have inadvertently made it harder for some expats to keep bank accounts in the United States and in some cases abroad.   Some U.S.-based banks have closed expats’ accounts because of difficulty in certifying that the holders still maintain U.S. addresses, as required by a Patriot Act provision.

(Source: More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship)

In October of 2000, the Mexican Supreme Court ordered the eviction of over 200 Americans from homes they had built in Baja California. Most of them were stunned, even though they knew the land had been in dispute in the courts for years. The properties in question ranged in value from $50,000 to $1 million.

Mexican Ejido Lands

They lost a dispute over Baja California property they had purchased, but which was in dispute from Ejido laws. The properties in question ranged in value from $50,000 to $1 million. It was an expensive lesson for those Americans who gambled that the courts would rule in their favor; and it put a crimp in the American expansionist efforts in Baja. One of them was an Orange County transportation consultant, Leigh Zaremba who said, “This is a huge betrayal by the Mexican government, The idea that a government agency approved this development, sent us documents that we were here legally, told the U.S. Embassy that they would work to solve this dispute and then turn around and say we are losing our right to everything–well, people here are in shock.”


The original eviction order was handed down in October 1999, but officials failed to carry it out when the Ejido Coronel Esteban Cantu blocked entry to the property. An attempt to broker an agreement between the original landowners and U.S. residents went nowhere.

But the Supreme Court’s edict Monday had teeth in it, stating that the Agrarian Reform Ministry officials who failed to carry out last year’s order are themselves subject to arrest and that current officials would be fired if the evictions aren’t carried out within 10 days.

“I feel happy with the authorities. We never lost confidence in the authorities and we kept fighting until they did their jobs,” said Gerardo Limon, a Mexico City attorney and part owner in Purua Punto Estero.

The original landowners claimed that their land was illegally taken from them in 1973 to create the ejido.

(Source: Americans Living in Baja Ordered Out by Mexican High Court)

What are Ejido Lands?


The first Mexican Farm Act was the “Ley Agraria” of January 6th 1915. In 1934, the act was made a constitutional guarantee. The Act was reformed many times but in 1992, the government realized that what had worked eight decades ago was no longer feasible since the Ejido members were leasing their farmland, selling their properties, and signing contracts that were illegal. Those contracts created many legal problems for farmers. That year, Mexican legislators approved the “Nueva Ley Agraria”, New Farm Act. According to the NLA and article 27 paragraph VII of the Mexican Constitution, an Ejido is a legal entity. It is set up so that it can represent itself (Board) and has its own patrimony (Land).


Foreigners cannot acquire rights to Ejido land!

In order to make it somewhat more understandable, compare an Ejido to a corporation. The Ejido supreme authority is the General Assembly. Then, as in a corporation, there is a Board of Directors, a “Comisariado Ejidal” and a Vigilance Committee “Consejo de Vigilancia”. The General Assembly approves the Ejido Bylaws; accepts or authorizes new Ejido members and elects the Board of Directors and the Vigilance Committee, approves business contracts with third parties, authorizes termination of the Ejido regime, etc. The Board of Directors is in charge of administration of the Ejido and also represents the Community in the judicial and fee-collecting matters.

According to the new act, the Ejido land is divided as follows:

I. – Land for human settlement.
II. – Common land.
III. – Farmland.

(Source: we don’t personally promote buying ejido land)

Why Would Americans Buy Risky Land in Mexico?

To answer this, all one has to do is look at the history of our own Manifest Destiny. What were the arrogant assumptions of Americans who moved out west during this time?

Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States (often in the ethnically specific form of the “Anglo-Saxon race”) was destined to expand across the continent. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only wise but that it was readily apparent (manifest) and inexorable (destiny).


Some believed that the expansion of the United States would happen without the direction of the U.S. government or the involvement of the military. After Americans immigrated to new regions, they would set up new democratic governments, and then seek admission to the United States, as Texas had done.

The term combined a belief in expansionism with other popular ideas of the era, including American exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism.

For anyone following the recent GOP candidate races in the U.S., the word American Exceptionalism shouldn’t be new. Newt Gingrich certainly brought those words back during his efforts to campaign for the highest office in our land.

Danger Thwarts Expansionism

Around 2006, the Mexican drug cartels initiated the violence that we know today in Mexico. With the sudden emergence of senseless killings and a rash of kidnappings, many Americans with the idea of moving to Mexico and building a nice place on the beach suddenly changed their minds. And many Americans living in Mexico had a change of heart as well.

With the drug cartels in battle and literally, piles of cadavers showing up all over Baja, the idea of risking investment in Baja lost a great deal of appeal. U.S. travel advisers warned against trips to Mexico, citing the escalated violence against Americans there, as well.

Suspected drug cartel hit men have gunned down three people who worked at the U.S. consulate in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez.

A consulate employee and her husband, both U.S. citizens, were shot dead in their car and the husband of a Mexican employee at the consulate was also killed in a drive-by shooting.

Consulate employee Lesley Enriquez, 35, was shot in the head and her husband Arthur Redelfs suffered wounds in his neck and arm. The couple’s one-year-old daughter was left orphaned

Mexico continues battling with a drug war that has seen some 18,000 people killed since 2006.
Ciudad Juarez is a major area of conflict between Mexican drug cartels over trafficking routes to the U.S. More than 2,600 people were murdered there in drug-related violence last year.
U.S. officials briefly closed the consulate in Reynosa after an outbreak of violence, which Mexican authorities have blamed on the breaking of an alliance between two drug gangs.

Senior Citizens Risk Mexico for Health Care

The latest phenomenon of Americans headed to Mexico, who are willing to risk it all for good health care:

“Mexicare: $250 a year covers it all” declared the Arizona Republic website headline on August 29. The Mexican Social Security Institute, known as IMSS, provides healthcare with no limits and no deductibles for $250 or less per year, and American seniors are heading south of the border to take advantage while it lasts.


Something the American seniors may not realize is that as more of them take advantage of the socialized healthcare available in Mexico, they put a strain on IMSS that resembles the burden millions of illegal Mexican immigrants are putting on the U.S. health system. IMSS is already widely known for losing money, and as more foreigners who have only paid into the system for a few years start obtaining the higher degree of care that is common for the elderly, things can only get worse.

“If they started flooding down here for this, it wouldn’t be sustainable,” said Javier Lopez Ortiz, IMSS director in San Miguel de Allende. Unemployment in Mexico has reduced contributions to the system, and IMSS has been using emergency funds to stay afloat. It should also be mentioned that the millions of Mexicans who are in the United States illegally are presumably no longer paying into the system, unless perhaps they are supporting relatives back home.

(Source: U.S. Seniors Opt for Mexican Healthcare)

If you look at the influx of Americans into the Mexican health care system you see a parallel to the Americans who purchased the land at Punta Banda. Will these Americans also scream foul when Mexico cuts them off and chooses to limit their health care for those who deserve it?

American Expansionism?

So I have to ask, is America expanding its new ugly to countries south of our border? Some think this is a possibility.


In a paper written by John B. Taylor, the Under Secretary of Treasury for Internal Affairs in 2003, The Latin American Expansion – Benefits for the United States, Mr. Taylor asserts the benefits are:

  • Stronger economies benefit all citizens of the United States.
  • Growing economies increase demand for U.S. exports:
  • Rising living standards reduce the incentives for illegal migration
  • Vibrant Economies reinforce popular support for market-oriented policies that create opportunity and enhance economic freedom.
  • Stronger economies reflect American values and make better allies for:
    • war on terror
    • fighting narcotics trafficking
    • combating money laundering
    • fighting terrorist financing

(Source: The Latin American Expansion – Benefits for the United States, Taylor, J., Meeting with Leaders of the South Florida Business Community, August 23, 2004)

We had a reputation in the world during the 1940’s and 50’s as American Imperialists. Will we regain this reputation by expanding our ugliest people, once again?


To read more from Jennifer on this subject and others, visit her blog @

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8 thoughts on “Expansionism and the New American Ugly – Part II”
  1. @ Jen,

    “We had a reputation in the world during the 1940′s and 50′s as American Imperialists. Will we regain this reputation by expanding our ugliest people, once again?”

    Tell men this – when was this entity that calls itself the United States of America anything other than an imperialistic conqueror? Ever since it was first founded it set straight to work pushing out indigeonous peoples, taking their land and resources, and never stopped doing so!

  2. Azazel, I think at one point there was a mindset in Americans where we wanted to try to remove that label, at least in some circles. I think it is still there. Unfortunately, there may be a larger group of folks who is bringing this back.

  3. I suppose there are certain groups of people who still identify with the state that want to stop its imperialistic policies – but since the state does not (and never did) serve the needs and desires of regular people they are, for all practical reasons and purposes, irrelevant: the state will do what it always has and will not be stopped until it’s crushed into powder…

  4. Jennifer, I’m detecting a bit of a bias here.

    First, it’s not ‘arrogant’ to want to leave a place like the U.S. of the early 21st century.

    This nation has become a police-state in every sense of the term – in point of fact, the message from our government has become loud and clear: Stay in line; don’t object, and keep your mouth shut – they’ve made examples of people from Bradley Manning to Occupy protesters; none of us are ever more than a stray comment from having two Taser leads shot into our hide, then being dragged to one of the Empire’s shiny new Gulags.

    I know several families who have expatriated themselves. They’ve avoided the world’s failed or largely failed-states; instead, they’ve concentrated on nations as diverse as Finland and New Zealand, where expats are welcome, governments stay out of people’s business and aren’t engaged in spending 3/4ths of their national budgets on a war machine.

    Mexico is, by any measure, a failed state, and hardly an example of a friendly place to live. (My company sent one of my peers to Mexico recently; they had to purchase a $2,000,000 life-insurance policy to incent him to go; the insurance company insisted on the presence of a security team – literally; hired mercenaries – and a bulletproof convoy while he was in Mexico City. This is not the sort of place where expatriates go to retire).

    Nicaragua, in spite of your familial attachment to the place, is probably not a good choice, either, nor is most of Central America any longer. (There are a lot of reasons for that, many which involve U.S. policy, but that’s beyond the purview of a comment here).

    As to Americans giving up their citizenship – there are solid reasons for that. Of the Americans who’ve had to file for bankruptcy over the past ten years, 62% of them did so over medical bills; over 30% did so because of failed businesses brought on by over 30 years of domestic economic policies which have bordered on insanity; of these, most have found out that while most debts can be bankrupted, the government still insists that no matter your position, your taxes will always be owed, with interest.

    Anyone who manages to recover will find that they simply owe most of what they make, plus their Social Security, to the government – it appears that the U.S. won’t take its licks along with the rest of the economy – even though they perpetrated the economic problems which caused these bankruptcies in the first place.

    All of this has led to people abandoning the U.S. in droves. Most have taken a common-sense, hard-nosed look at where they are, and realized that teaching English as a second-language in Myanmar is better than living in the street in the U.S.

    That’s hardly the approach of an ‘arrogant’ person.

    Now, add this to the equasion – Barbara Boxer, that paragon of Progressivism from California, has introduced a bill this month (H.R. 1813) which would prevent anyone owing back taxes from obtaining a passport or leaving the country.

    As Chris Hedges said some time ago, “the machine is dying”; the government is locking down our borders – they need the cannon-fodder and the productivity of a population to maintain the haven they’ve created for the 1% which keeps them in power.

    Don’t blame the Americans for leaving. And, as the old song goes, “…don’t put them down as arrogant.” They’re just trying to survive.


  5. @ W.D. Noble,

    I resent the idea that going to Mexico or Central America is a “bad” idea for those of us who jump ship from the U.S./NATO empire – a number of my associates actually take very well to the culture and have “connections” to certain folks indigeonous to the region (and that’s all I’ll say about that…): for people like them, Mexico is a nice place to “set up shop” along various routes used to convey goods and services that aren’t exactly “socially acceptable.”

    In fact, I contemplated going myself for some time, but ultimately decided against it because my own “connections” are based where I am – plus I’m a terrible Spanish speaker (after 5 years of study I can only speak it on the 3rd. grade level…), so I wouldn’t have a great chance of forging new “connections” down there…

  6. W.D. Noble. I didn’t say Americans were arrogant for expatriating. I said arrogant Americans HAVE expatriated and brought a whole lot of American ugly to some of the enclaves they’ve moved to. I used Mexico and Nicaragua as examples.

    I had expatriated as well, so that wasn’t the bone I was chewing, that’s your interpretation. My bone had to do with the arrogant racist attitudes they brought with them in this new attempt at American expansionism, and often the older ways of American imperialism that follow these ventures.

    I agree with most of what you say about the U.S. sinking its last ship and people jumping off for life boats. But when you do this, you don’t do so with the arrogance of historical figures like “Sam the Banana Man,” United Fruit, or the assumptions that your race is there to teach all of the ‘little people’ of the place you move to, how to exist. Do so with some degree of dignity, modesty, and a desire to learn.

    Otherwise, you are simply bringing your American “exceptionalism” (the problems that f’d up this country) to another location. And what an assinine thin that is to do!

  7. There is another side to the expatriate debate. The side of countries who grow bored with people losing it all in the U.S. and jumping ship with very little to bring to their new country. Those who wind up on the skids in their new environment and needing support by their new neighbors. I can tell you that this doesn’t gain acceptance in places like Mexico and Central America. You are likely to end up on the door step of an American Embassy, begging them to send you home so you can have one good meal.

  8. “Americans are not the nicest people in the world, and that’s a universally accepted truth.”

    Mitch, the problem with generalizations is that they always come back to bite ya in the backside.

    I’ve traveled a good part of this planet – and when I do, I always wind up making some new friends. They’re as diverse as a housekeeper in Jamaica and the VP of a well-respected winery in Tuscany.

    Then again, I don’t go telling people I’m an American until later.

    The Empire is not well regarded worldwide – and hence, its citizens are not viewed in a good light. (Ironically, we could consider this a form of ‘reverse racism’, or whatchamacallit – I’m not terribly good at picking nits, so I’ll leave that to someone else).

    Jen is right, in that one of our biggest ‘exports’ in this regard is our attitude of ‘American Exceptionalism’. Predictably, most countries don’t take well to that, and shouldn’t.

    As to America itself – the elephant in the room is that if the government has its way, expatriation may well be a short-lived phenom; as mentioned above, the Empire is working very, very hard to lock down its borders; we can expect that they’ll do everything they can to keep those of us who Stayed Awake in Class from leaving.


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