"The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over," Kerry told the Organization of American States in Washington after explaining the longstanding interventionist tenet of U.S. foreign policy in the Americas -- invoked by presidents from James Monroe to Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan -- was now obsolete.
Kerry's declaration of the end of the Monroe Doctrine era was greeted with hesitant applause among the OAS delegates.
This prompted Kerry to encouraged attendees to express their approval more vigorously.
"That's worth applauding. That's not a bad thing," he said.
The doctrine, introduced in 1823, was meant to keep Europeans out of Latin America in the wake of regional independence movements from Spain and Portugal.
It said further efforts by European nations to colonize or interfere with countries in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.
The doctrine's authors, including John Quincy Adams, who later became president, saw it as a proclamation of U.S. opposition to colonialism less than 50 years after the American Revolution.
But the doctrine was later re-interpreted and applied in a variety of instances. Roosevelt in 1904 amplified it to assert a U.S. right to intervene to stabilize Latin American economies with an eye toward making Washington the dominant player regionwide.
"Many Latin American leaders have said the Monroe Doctrine amounted to a license for the United States to intervene whenever it wanted in their countries' internal affairs," Maria Elena Ferrer, a Venezuelan national and political author who runs the Humanamente consulting firm in New York, told United Press International Monday.
"At the same time, those same leaders took advantage of U.S. power when it was convenient for them," she said. "So it was like a classic love-hate relationship, with both sides 'using' each other."
Kerry told the audience a relationship between Washington and Latin America based on U.S. domination was obsolete and needed to be replaced by a recognition of equal partnership and shared responsibilities to advance common goals and secure common interests.
"The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share," he said.
"As the old proverb says, 'La union hace la fuerza.' 'In unity, there is strength,'" he said.
"We also prove that peace is possible," Kerry said. "You don't need force to have fuerza. The vision that we share for our countries is actually within our grasp, but we have to ask ourselves some tough and important questions in order to secure our goal."
Kerry's remarks Monday contrasted with his comments before Congress in April, when he said the United States needed to pay more attention to Latin America because it is the U.S. "back yard."
Those remarks brought about Latin American anger and fear of a return to a more muscular U.S. approach to the region.
Kerry told the OAS Washington has "moved past that era."
"It will require courage and a willingness to change," he said. "But above all, it will require a higher and deeper level of cooperation between us, all of us together, as equal partners in this hemisphere. That is the way we will make the difference, and that is the way we will live up to our responsibility."