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Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In:

Recent Scholarship on United States–Latin American Relations

Q: Why are there no coups d’état in the United States? A: Because there is no U.S. embassy there.

Decades of repetition have not diminished the appeal of the old joke in Latin America, perhaps because history, in the form of U.S. interventions there, seems to repeat itself so reliably. For some, the joke has a bitter edge. Coming of age between the twin fates of Guatemala’s Jácobo Arbenz and Chile’s Salvador Allende—overthrown in 1954 and 1973, respectively, with the help of the CIA— a generation of scholars on both sides of the Rio Grande saw the not-so-hidden hand of the “colossus of the North” behind much that was dark in twentieth- century Latin American history: authoritarian government, stifled economic development, systematic inequality, tragic levels of violence. Recent scholarship on the circum-Caribbean between the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, however, questions whether this is an adequate account of how history happens, and seeks to restore the Latin American half of the equation. Eleven years ago, in these pages, Mark T. Gilderhus identified “an evolving synthesis” in writing on U.S.–Latin American relations, one that was generally critical of U.S. policies. 1 Since then, although historians of superpower relations have refueled Cold War debates with new archival findings, in regard to Latin America advocates of an orthodox or nationalist position have all but abandoned the field. It is now unusual to come across a work of history that strongly argues the merit of U.S. policies in the region or claims these have been designed prin- cipally to protect and promote freedom and democracy. 2 Scholars attribute the

1. Mark T. Gilderhus, “An Emerging Synthesis? U.S.-Latin American Relations since

the Second World War,” Diplomatic History 16, no. 3 (1992): 42952, quoted at 452. For

a discussion of the “convergence” of liberal and radical approaches, see Mark T. Berger, “Managing Latin America: U.S. Power, North American Knowledge and the Cold War,” JILAS—Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 2, no. 1 ( January 1997),

http://www.his.latrobe.edu.au/jilas/journal/vol2_1/Berger.pdf (last accessed 31 July 2003).

2. Unlike that exemplar of the nationalist position and bête noire of the revisionists,

Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Latin-American Policy of the United States (New York, 1943). For an exception that proves the rule, see Robert Freeman Smith’s slender volume, The Caribbean

Diplomatic History, Vol. 27, No. 5 (November 2003). © 2003 The Society for Historians

of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Published by Blackwell Publishing, Inc., 350 Main

Street, Malden, MA, 02148, USA and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.


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disappointing record to a variety of causes—economic self-interest, ideological blinders, the international system, corporatism, racist assumptions—but they typically continue to write in the tragic idiom introduced nearly half a century ago by William Appleman Williams in his critique of U.S. foreign policy. 3 This consensus is largely the result of several decades of work by revision- ists who persuasively demonstrated how seldom purely defensive national- security concerns or altruistic motives have driven the making of policy toward the region. This now-dominant school has been labeled economic determinist by its detractors, although the studies are usually much richer than that and generally incorporate multiple factors in their arguments. Historiographical accounts typically trace the development of revisionism in U.S.–Latin American relations to three principal sources: Williams and his students at the University of Wisconsin, especially Walter LaFeber and Lloyd Gardner; 4 the world-systems theory developed by Immanuel Wallerstein; 5 and dependency theorists, such as Raúl Prebisch, Andre Gunder Frank, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (some of whom later modified or abandoned their earliest work as too schematic). 6 By the late 1980s and 1990s, dependency theorists’ prescriptions for escap- ing the structure of subordination to the North Atlantic countries—ranging from import-substitution industrialization to socialist models—had declined in popularity, but the premises of the dependency model continue to influence some writing on inter-American relations. The dependentistas explained Latin American underdevelopment as the product of actions taken in the wealthy countries, especially the relegation of Latin America to a peripheral role as pro- ducer of low-value raw materials and importer of high-value industrial goods. Luis Fernando Ayerbe’s Estados Unidos e América Latina: A construção da sobera- nia argues that underdevelopment is not just a feature of the imbalanced inter- national system, but was deliberately and actively maintained throughout the Cold War by the U.S. practice of undermining all Latin American initiatives that sought to undertake alternative paths to development or to institute social-

World and the United States: Mixing Rum and Coca-Cola (New York, 1994), and, for a more meas-

ured assessment, Frederick B. Pike’s FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy: Sixty Years of Generally Gentle Chaos (Austin, TX, 1995).

3. William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Cleveland, 1959).

4. Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 18601898

(Ithaca, NY, 1963); Lloyd C. Gardner, Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (Madison, WI,


5. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System (New York, 1974).

6. For key works in context, see the chapters “Research Patterns and Issues” and “The

Latin American and Caribbean Region” in G. Pope Atkins, Handbook of Research on the International Relations of Latin America and the Caribbean (Boulder, 2001). Currents in revi- sionism are explored in depth in Mark T. Berger, Under Northern Eyes: Latin American Studies and U.S. Hegemony in the Americas, 18981990 (Bloomington, IN, 1995). Berger argues that U.S. scholars have been accomplices in the exercise of U.S. dominance over the region—an interesting analysis of the connections between government and the academy up to the 1960s, but a debatable point for the period since the 1970s during the ascendancy of revisionist interpretations.

Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In : 623

ist or nationalist policies. Whereas the United States flourished under internal policies that promote a dynamic consumer market at home, protect key indus- tries, guarantee a minimum standard of living for low-income sectors, and pre- serve respect for civil liberties and the rule of law, Ayerbe writes, Washington has adopted a “radically different posture” in its external policies: “systematic violations of human rights, civil liberties, political democracy, and private enter- prise in other countries.” 7 In Latin America, this has taken the form of eco- nomic boycotts (which violate the principle of free trade) and the training of military forces to combat internal foes, with no restrictions on their methods. By backing the most reactionary, backward, and corrupt sectors and helping to bloat military establishments, Ayerbe maintains, the United States has con- tributed to a “systematic, regional process of the destruction of social capital” so essential to successful development: that is, “the imprisonment, physical elimination, and exodus of political leaders, trade unionists, intellectuals, and scientists” creates “profound structural damage” by depriving countries of skilled administrators, honest politicians, and the creative resources needed for technological innovation. 8 Other recent analyses of U.S.–Latin American relations similarly fault the exercise of U.S. power for Latin American powerlessness, but locate the problem in ideology and perceptions. Lars Schoultz ascribes both the predilec- tion for interventionism and the recurring policy failures to a 200-year conti- nuity in North American views of Latin Americans as inherently inferior and assigned to a station “beneath the United States.” 9 Schoultz catalogs arrogant and inaccurate statements from some of the usual suspects (John Foster Dulles:

“[Y]ou have to pat them a little bit and make them think you are fond of them”) and a few U.S. policy-makers generally credited with more sensitivity (Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “You have to treat them like children”). 10 That such under- lying assumptions of superiority have permeated the governmental bureaucracy at all levels and in all periods is relentlessly demonstrated in Schoultz’s work, and his findings are in line with other analyses of perceptions and mispercep- tions that also focus on U.S. policy-makers. 11 Although such studies often show a nuanced understanding of the manifold images of the Latin American used

7. Luis Fernando Ayerbe, Estados Unidos e América Latina: A construção da soberania [The

United States and Latin America: The Construction of Sovereignty] (São Paulo, 2001), pub-

lished in Spanish as Los Estados Unidos y la América Latina: La construcción de la hegemonía [The United States and Latin America: The Construction of Hegemony] (Havana/Bogotá, 2001). Quote from Spanish edition at 292.

8. Ayerbe, Estados Unidos, 294.

9. Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America

(Cambridge, MA, 1998).

10. Ibid., 336, 320.

11. See also John J. Johnson, Latin America in Caricature (Austin, TX, 1993); James William

Park, Latin-American Underdevelopment: A History of Perspectives in the United States, 18771965 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1995); and Frederick B. Pike, The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature (Austin, TX, 1992).

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to justify U.S. intervention—bandit deserving punishment, damsel in distress, child lacking discipline, child in need of education and uplift, and so on—they investigate only the northern half of the relationship. Schoultz’s thirteenth chapter title, “Removing the Marines, Installing the Puppets,” is representative of an approach that ascribes all agency to U.S. policy-makers, even as it criti- cizes their actions. This tendency to dwell upon the development of policy in Washington has increasingly drawn the attention of critics and reviewers in recent years. Gilder- hus noted that the literature on U.S.–Latin American relations was “largely dependent upon the records of the United States.” 12 Stephen J. Randall, writing in 1991, acknowledged both the virtues and the limitations resulting from “the almost exclusive preoccupation in U.S.-based scholarship with Washington policy and policy-makers. Such an approach is enlightening on the U.S. side but detrimental to understanding inter-American relations, and it sadly bears too marked a resemblance to the nature of U.S.–Latin American policy.” 13 It is now standard practice for book reviewers to call attention to the inclusion or neglect of Latin American sources. 14 There have always been a few scholars comfortable working in several lan- guages and committed to writing international history. Friedrich Katz drew on sources from nine countries in his acclaimed study placing the Mexican Revo- lution in its international context. 15 Thomas Schoonover’s comparative studies of imperialism in Central America are based on research in eight countries. 16 Even as the interpretive synthesis identified by Gilderhus grew less controver- sial in the 1980s and 1990s, however, the field increasingly recognized that diplomatic histories generally have paid too little attention to Latin American

12. Gilderhus, “An Emerging Synthesis?”, 429.

13. Stephen J. Randall, “Ideology, National Security, and the Corporate State: The

Historiography of U.S.-Latin American Relations,” Latin American Research Review 27, no. 1 (1991): 20517, quoted at 206.

14. See, for example, William O. Walker III’s review of Michael L. Krenn’s The Chains of

Interdependence: U.S. Policy Toward Central America, 19451954, in The International History Review 20, no. 2 (June 1998): 46667; Helen Delpar’s review of Krenn’s book and of Michael D. Gambone’s Eisenhower, Somoza, and the Cold War in Nicaragua, 19531961, among others, in Latin American Research Review 35, no. 3 (2000): 164, 166; Seth Fein’s review of Gaddis

Smith, The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 19451993, in Pacific Historical Review 66, no. 4 (November 1997): 620; and Thomas L. Pearcy’s review of John Major, Prize Possession: The United States and the Panama Canal, 19031979 in Hispanic American Historical Review 75, no. 1 (February 1995): 13839.

15. Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican

Revolution (Chicago, 1981).

16. Thomas Schoonover, Germany in Central America: Competitive Imperialism, 18211929

(Tuscaloosa, AL, 1998); Schoonover, The French in Central America: Culture and Commerce, 18201930 (Wilmington, DE, 2000). Other recent studies in which extensive multinational archival work proved essential include Jürgen Buchenau, In the Shadow of the Giant: The Making of Mexico’s Central America Policy, 18761930 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1996); Piero Gleijeses, Conflict- ing Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 19591976 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002); Daniela Spenser, The Impossible Triangle: Mexico, Soviet Russia, and the United States in the 1920s (Durham, NC, 1999); and others mentioned in text below.

Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In : 625

agency. The newer work has not shed any of the field’s “eclecticism of approach and interpretation,” 17 but it does tend to be marked by an attempt to integrate the actions and perspectives of Latin Americans into an explication of bilateral or multilateral relations, without losing sight of the fundamental disparity of power between the North and the South. Rather than a return to earlier nation- alist positions, recent work tries to strike a balance by acknowledging the enor- mous impact of the Western Hemisphere’s only superpower without ignoring the role of Latin Americans in shaping their own history. An important impetus for this change in the direction of the study of U.S.–Latin American relations has been the influence of what should be its sister field but has sometimes been more of a polyglot distant cousin: Latin Ameri- can history. As far as most Latin Americanists interested in inter-American encounters are concerned, the battle between the orthodox and the revisionist positions ended long ago, leaving few surprises in the latest volleys from revi- sionists riding out of the hills to shoot the wounded. Rather than explicating the failures of U.S. policy yet again, scholars working with Spanish- or Portuguese-language sources and influenced by a careful study of Latin American history are trying to restore the neglected half of “U.S.–Latin American relations” to the relationship. Often, this is done by incorporating Latin American archives. Not so long ago, the value of foreign sources and perspectives still had to be defended. 18 The debate over whether foreign sources are crucial to the study of foreign relations seems to have faded, replaced by institutional recognition of their importance. The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) has created two special fellowships designed to foster multinational scholarship: the Michael J. Hogan Fellowship “to promote research in foreign language sources” by supporting foreign-language study, and the W. Stull Holt Fellowship for travel costs associated with research overseas. Like reviewers’ critiques of books lacking Latin American sources, this trend does not reflect political correctness so much as a new sense of how to be historically correct:

that is, the sense that one cannot provide a full or accurate picture of past rela- tions between two countries by examining only one country’s records, any more than a court of law could reach a sensible judgment by listening to only the prosecution or the defense. Mononational research tends to produce mononational explanations and to ignore the role of players from countries other than those whose words are examined. The Cuban missile crisis, for example, which often appears in the lit- erature as a Cold War confrontation between the superpowers or an episode of

17. Gilderhus, paraphrasing Richard V. Salisbury, “Good Neighbors? The United States and Latin America in the Twentieth Century,” in American Foreign Relations: A Historiograph- ical Review, ed. Gerald K. Haines and J. Samuel Walker (Westport, CT, 1981), 31134, quoted at 311. 18. See Sally Marks, “The World According to Washington,” Diplomatic History 11 (Summer 1987): 26582.

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crisis management lasting thirteen days, looks very different when scholars try “Putting Cuba Into the Cuban Missile Crisis,” focusing on Cuban actions and placing the origins of the conflict firmly in the context of nearly two years of hostility between the United States and Cuba. 19 That putting Latin America back into U.S.–Latin American relations has nothing to do with political cor- rectness or a kind of affirmative action for non-U.S. scholarship should be clear from the fact that Latin American scholars have no immunity against the nar- rowing effect of a restricted source base. Ayerbe’s work, mentioned above, relies almost entirely on documents from the U.S. Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, the RAND Corporation, and secondary accounts. That may help explain why the only actor in his inter-American history is the north- ern colossus, and why events are so undifferentiated. 20 Víctor Grimaldi’s Golpe y revolución: El derrocamiento de Juan Bosch y la intervención norteamericana, the result of substantial digging in the U.S. National Archives and presidential libraries, presents a Zolian indictment of the 1965 intervention in which Dominicans are powerless victims. 21 As scholars heed the calls for using Latin American sources or draw on their own training in Latin American history, their research provides more space for Latin American actors and agency. Because of this, their findings question some conventional wisdom about U.S. power, including elements of the revisionist synthesis that depicted the United States as a regional hegemon, a “core” nation to the Latin American “periphery,” or—to take any one of the familiar images— a puppetmaster pulling the strings of puppet leaders, a central planet orbited by satellites, or the manipulator of client states.

19. The phrase was the title of a recent panel at the Latin-American Studies Association

meeting. Session 600, INT010, 29 March 2003, organized by Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive. Kornbluh has been instrumental in bringing together scholars and partici- pants from several countries, including Cuba, to develop an international history of U.S.- Cuban relations during the Kennedy administration. See James G. Blight and Peter Kornbluh,

Politics of Illusion: The Bay of Pigs Invasion Re-examined (Boulder, 1998); and the National Security Archive’s Web page on the fortieth anniversary of the missile crisis at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/index.htm (last accessed 25 July 2003).

20. For a more nuanced account of how the United States opposed economic nationalism

with varying strategies at different times, see Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of U.S.-Latin American Relations (New York, 1996); Stephen G. Rabe, The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (Chapel Hill, NC, 1999); James F. Siekmeier, Aid, Nationalism, and Inter-American Relations: Guatemala, Bolivia, and the United States, 19451961 (Lewiston, NY, 1999).

21. Víctor Grimaldi, Golpe y revolución: El derrocamiento de Juan Bosch y la intervención

norteamericana [Coup and Revolution: The Overthrow of Juan Bosch and the North American Intervention] (Santo Domingo, 2000). Even accounts that set out to correct this imbalance can be hobbled by the difficulty of access to archival records in some countries. On the dilemma this poses for interpretation, see David Sheinin’s review of Stephen M. Streeter’s useful Managing the Counterrevolution: The United States and Guatemala, 19541961, H- Diplo, H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences, November 2001, http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path = 277481009395463 (last accessed 25 July 2003).

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In some recent work, Latin American leaders—even if they never achieved the defiance of a Fidel Castro—now appear as genuine partners in the rela- tionship, acting with autonomy and pursuing their own interests to the best of

their ability within an asymmetrical framework. In his study of U.S.-Costa Rican relations, Kyle Longley explains that reading James Scott’s exploration of peasant resistance in Weapons of the Weak suggested to him that weak nations, too, could engage in similarly creative strategies of “nonviolent resistance and

in their struggle against U.S. domination.” 22 Longley

immersed himself in the records of Costa Rica’s foreign ministry and emerged with a portrait of postwar leader José Figueres as a clever sparrow, taunting, eluding, and outwitting the North American hawk. Figueres was able to nation- alize the banks and utilities, challenge the United Fruit Company and force a renegotiation of its contract, organize regional opposition to U.S.-backed dictators Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic and Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, and institute a wealth tax. How did he do all this, yet avoid the fate of Jácobo Arbenz? Figueres’s ability came partly from his knowledge of his opponent: he was familiar with U.S. political culture and knew how to cast his policies to appeal to Arthur Schlesinger’s “vital center” of liberal democrats in the United States, whom he carefully cultivated, invoking Jeffersonian images of a nation of yeoman farmers and joking about football while calling for a New Deal for Costa Rica and firmly expressing his opposition to communism. 23 The latter point seems to have been especially crucial in persuading the Truman and Eisenhower administrations that Figueres’s government was on the right side in the Cold War. Figueres also benefited from a history of cordial relations between the two countries and from U.S. perceptions of Costa Ricans as dem- ocratic, reliable, and white. This account would have looked very different had the project been approached without Costa Rican archives. Where else would one discover, as Longley has, that the government of Figueres so carefully meas- ured U.S. opinion of its reform policies that the Costa Rican embassy in Wash- ington monitored editorials in such obscure newspapers as the Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, Tennessee? 24 “Oftentimes the tail wags the dog,” Longley concludes at one point here, uncharacteristically overstating his case: what his book demonstrates is that there was no dog and no tail, but two distinct animals like the ones in his title—one stronger than the other, to be sure, but both engag- ing in active attempts to pursue their interests. 25


22. Kyle Longley, The Sparrow and the Hawk: Costa Rica and the United States During the

Rise of José Figueres (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1997), 156; James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday

Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, CT, 1985). See also Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT, 1990).

23. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (Boston, 1949).

24. Longley, The Sparrow and the Hawk, 13233. The embassy staffer forwarding the clip-

ping observed, “Pretty small but this is the American heartland.”

25. Ibid., 153.

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Like Costa Rica under Figueres, Mexico, by tradition “so far from God, so close to the United States,” 26 has nonetheless retained a substantial degree of autonomy from its northern neighbor, the extent of which is assessed by several recent works centered on World War II. Stephen R. Niblo sees the war as an opportunity seized by U.S. officials to recoup the influence they had lost during the 1930s, “imposing their will on the Mexican decision-makers” by “changing the rules of the game.” 27 First, the federal government intervened in the U.S. economy to bolster war production, and an array of new controls and regula- tions on trade and finance required Mexicans to funnel their business through the U.S. embassy. Then the administrations of Manuel Avila Camacho and Miguel Alemán Valdez renounced the Cardenista model of nationalist devel- opment, permitting the massive return of foreign capital and adopting U.S. standards of national income accounting that disregarded issues of inequitable distribution. Niblo carefully explains the intimate forms of influence exercised by such ostensibly apolitical actors as the statisticians dispatched to Mexico City by the U.S. Department of Commerce to impose uniform standards required by the newly-formed World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In a subtle analysis made possible by extensive work in the archives of both countries, he shows how the Mexican government under Lázaro Cárdenas had kept accounts with political implications for nationalist development: for example, counting investment in new production separately from “investment” that was merely speculative capital driving up stock prices or real-estate values without creating jobs or producing goods or services, and recording the per- centage of capital, land, and factories owned by foreigners. The wartime and postwar “harmonizing” of Mexico’s books meant eliminating such categories, which did not exist under the U.S. uniform standards, in favor of a simpler measurement of the gross national product (GNP). This encouraged the redi- rection of resources toward industries that would boost the overall GNP at the expense of supporting projects that favored ejidos (communal lands), the peas- antry, the poor, and women. Real wages fell, the countryside was starved to feed export-based production, and the Cardenista system of economic nationalism crumbled, mirroring the “erosion of sovereignty,” as loans from U.S.-based financial institutions “proved to be a more powerful force than sending in the Marines.” 28 If Niblo’s account argues that Mexican officials of the post-Cardenista era readily adopted U.S. policies and undermined their own autonomy from within, Friedrich E. Schuler’s study of Mexican foreign policy under Cárdenas reaches



The quotation is usually attributed to Mexico’s last dictator, Porfirio Díaz, ousted in

27 . Stephen R. Niblo, Wa r, Diplomacy, and Development: The United States and Mexico,

19381954 (Wilmington, DE, 1995), 285.

28. Ibid., 259, 288. Readers wondering why this account does not focus on the role of

Mexican domestic politics in producing these changes should consult Niblo’s Mexico in the 1940s: Modernity, Politics, and Corruption (Wilmington, DE, 1999).

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the opposite conclusion. Cárdenas professionalized the diplomatic corps and nurtured talented federal bureaucrats who were, in Schuler’s view, “better skilled in international negotiations, more realistic in the evaluation of historical con- texts, and more creative in situations than their European and U.S. counter- parts.” 29 Together, a pragmatic Cárdenas and a highly capable technocratic elite were able to play one great power against another, managing most famously to get away with the nationalization of Mexico’s oilfields without provoking U.S. intervention, while also successfully pursuing Mexican national interests in relations with more powerful European countries and Japan. Rather than the dependent victims of an international system, the subjects of Schuler’s study are masters of the game. Mexican officials are also shown to be far better informed than their U.S. and German counterparts in María Emilia Paz’s investigation of wartime coop- eration between Mexico and the United States. Washington’s eagerness to see Axis nationals in Mexico closely controlled, and the desire for joint military operations and rights to station U.S. forces on Mexican territory, gave the Mexican government “a certain leverage,” exercised in part by ex-president Cárdenas in his new positions as a key military commander and then minister of defense. 30 Here, too, Mexican sources reveal Mexican agency. The assignment of agency to Latin American leaders also extends to recent analyses of Caribbean and Central American dictators long depicted as the classic puppets of the United States. Two recent studies of Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua portray him, not, in the (possibly apocryphal) words of FDR, as “our sonofabitch,” but as a more independent figure who amassed great wealth and power inside his own country in spite of U.S. policies, not because of them. Paul Coe Clark, Jr., who titles his book “a revisionist look” not to align himself with the dependentistas but to announce his challenge to the puppet myth, calls attention to efforts by U.S. officials to remove Somoza from power after World War II. 31 During the Truman administration, the State Department developed a policy pushed by Assistant Secretary Spruille Braden of distancing itself from nondemocratic regimes in order to delegitimize them in the hope that they would be replaced. This was most notoriously (and unsuccessfully) applied against Juan Perón of Argentina, but Clark reveals a substantial amount of fric- tion between State Department officials and Somoza, beginning as early as 1943 and culminating in the withdrawal of recognition for about a year in 1947. Somoza remained in power because he better understood the Nicaraguan polit-

29. Friedrich E. Schuler, Mexico Between Hitler and Roosevelt: Mexican Foreign Relations in

the Age of Lázaro Cárdenas, 19341940 (Albuquerque, 1998), 1. For Mexico’s cultural influence on the United States, see Helen Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Rela- tions Between the United States and Mexico, 19201935 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1992).

30. María Emilia Paz, Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the U.S. as Allies in World

War II (University Park, PA, 1997), 6.

31. Paul Coe Clark, Jr., The United States and Somoza, 19331956: A Revisionist Look

(Westport, CT, 1992).

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ical landscape than did U.S. officials and was able to make good use of unin- tentional signs of support, exploiting “the dichotomy between what actually was and what was thought to be Washington’s position regarding the Nicaraguan dictator.” 32 As an example, Clark emphasizes that Somoza’s state visit to Wash- ington in 1939—complete with cheering crowds, aircraft streaking overhead, and a personal welcome from FDR at Union Station—was merely a rehearsal for the upcoming visit of the king and queen of England. The implication is that the Roosevelt administration officials who organized the event did not mean to express strong support for Somoza. But they cannot have failed to realize that, rehearsal or no, the pageantry surrounding the visit would send a clear message to Nicaraguans and all Latin Americans. Clark shows the infight- ing between State Department officials seeking to encourage democracy in Nicaragua and the U.S. ambassadors and military officials posted there who were more susceptible to Somoza’s charms. At times, the case is argued too

strenuously, as when Clark describes the break in relations as a “year-long effort to dislodge Somoza from power.” 33 (To evaluate this claim, one need only think of the energies mustered in genuine U.S. attempts to dislodge other Latin American leaders at various times in the twentieth century.) Nonetheless, Somoza clearly maneuvered through this temporary period not merely by being

a compliant puppet. Michael D. Gambone seeks to assess the degree of Nicaragua’s autonomy in

a relationship with the United States he characterizes as “‘between patronage

and partnership,’ between a state of complete dominance and equality.” 34 He does not contest the asymmetry of power between the two countries, but does argue that Nicaragua remained “an independent actor” under Somoza. The interests of the two diverged, for example, over military aid, which the United States wanted to see used for creating a force to supplement Rio Pact organi- zation for hemispheric defense, but Somoza used “as an opportunity to earn hard currency [by reselling U.S. equipment], to crush signs of internal rebel- lion, and to extend its influence over Central America.” 35 Gambone identifies specific instances of this kind of divergence, and, like Clark, argues that the Somoza family was able to outfox Washington officials by cultivating personal relations with diplomats and military officers posted to Somoza’s capital. At times, these studies of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations illuminate more trees than forest. Few revisionists insisted that the exercise of U.S. power always func- tioned smoothly and without friction, or that there was no room for the expres- sions of difference. Gambone’s book provides a close account (based chiefly on U.S. sources) of negotiations over economic aid to demonstrate Nicaraguan

32. Ibid., 199.

33. Ibid., 174.

34. Michael D. Gambone, Eisenhower, Somoza, and the Cold War in Nicaragua, 19531961

(Westport, CT, 1997), 3.

35. Ibid., 226.

Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In : 631

independence of action. But there seems to have been fundamental agreement between the two sides, with some routine haggling over the details. For example, Luis Somoza is shown taking advantage of his friendship with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Whelan in order to drive a wedge between Washington- based aid officials and the U.S. mission in Managua, thereby securing a half- million dollars for housing construction when Whelan prematurely announced the project to the press as a fait accompli. But it turns out that the relevant U.S. agency had already reached an internal decision to fund the project, which was desired by all sides. There is less here than meets the eye, especially in the context of firm Nicaraguan support for the CIA’s exile invasions of Guatemala in 1954 and Cuba in 1961, both sides’ eagerness to suppress leftist dissent, and the failure of the Somoza family to challenge the United States on any sub- stantial issues in this period. There may be a stronger case to be made for Somoza’s independence, perhaps by making use of Nicaraguan archives, but agency and independence are not the same thing. 36 Nevertheless, works of this nature successfully challenge the notion of U.S. policy as a deus ex machina, with the United States somehow responsible for all developments in bilateral relations, even when the country in question is ruled by a friendly dictator. José Gilberto Quintero Torres questions whether Venezuela merely served as a U.S. satellite during the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez from 1952 to 1958. Pérez Jiménez was praised by John Foster Dulles as a model leader, since he created a favorable investment climate, and Eisenhower awarded him the Legion of Merit. Yet Quintero Torres demon- strates that the Venezuelan government, and especially its armed forces, pursued a strategy of relative autonomy within an asymmetrical relationship in a variety of ways. 37 Venezuelan officials turned to European suppliers of military equip- ment and training to diminish their reliance on the United States, refused to cooperate with plans that envisioned U.S. occupation of the Venezuelan oil- fields in the event of a crisis, and developed a doctrine of national defense instead of subscribing to the U.S. doctrine of hemispheric defense. Pérez Jiménez even refused a request to provide a token number of troops for the Korean War. All of this represented, within a limited range of possibilities and without denying the basic coincidence of interests between the two governments, “an autonomous construction independent of U.S. influence” in

36. Knut Walter’s substantial The Regime of Anastasio Somoza, 19361956 (Chapel Hill, NC,

1993) does this successfully in making a revisionist argument of another kind: that Somoza’s

staying power was the product, not only of repression, but of his strategy of state-supported, export-led growth, which yielded income that could be used for patronage and helped achieve consensus among dominant sectors of society. The book is an impressive internal Nicaraguan history, not a history of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations. In fact, the near-absence of the United States as a factor in Somoza’s rule is one of the rare weaknesses of the study.

37. José Gilberto Quintero Torres, Venezuela-U.S.A.: Estrategia y seguridad en lo regional y

en lo bilateral, 19521958 [Venezuela-U.S.A.: Strategy and Security in Regional and Bilateral Relations, 19521958] (Caracas, 2000).

632 : diplomatic


military relations, best understood as neither “completely cooperative nor

competitive.” 38 Updating the revisionist synthesis to reflect Latin American agency does not mean denying that the United States has had a tremendous degree of influence

of the course of events in the region. John H. Coatsworth’s Central America and

the United States has more to say than earlier treatments about the first half of the relationship, in terms of both various attempts by Central American leaders to counterbalance U.S. dominance and the transformations of Central Ameri- can societies produced by interactions with the United States. But his conclu- sions are very much in line with the revisionist consensus: he refutes the orthodox claim that revolutionary movements are produced by “outside agita-

tors” and instead ascribes the isthmian history of violence and instability to close U.S. support for local elites, which allowed them to be especially intransigent in defending their privileges while discrediting them further to nationalist reform movements. 39 Like the Somoza of Clark and Gambone, Rafael Trujillo is the subject of two books that depict him as a clever manipulator of U.S. officials, rather than

a “willing servant of United States governmental and financial interests.” 40

Michael R. Hall’s Sugar and Power in the Dominican Republic assigns “equal sig-

nificance to Dominican interests as influential, and occasionally predominant,

factors in determining hemispheric relations.” 41 Dominican and U.S. elites engaged in a dance of “reciprocal manipulation” over the two crucial concerns

in the Caribbean context: sugar imports and the alleged communist threat. 42 In

Hall’s telling, Dominican elites inflated the communist menace in order to argue

that they needed a higher sugar quota to provide income for defensive efforts. When they were successful, they then used the profits not to fight communism but to “preserve a hierarchical social order and line their own pockets.” 43 Meanwhile, Washington sought to use possible changes in the sugar quota as both incentive and deterrent in seeking reform from Trujillo, with limited

38. Ibid., 2.

39. John H. Coatsworth, Central America and the United States: The Clients and the Colossus

(New York, 1994). Walter LaFeber’s touchstone account, Inevitable Revolutions: The United

States in Central America, 2 nd ed. (New York, 1993), while having less to say about the strate- gies of Central American political leaders, also placed responsibility for continually recurring revolts on U.S. support for Central American elites and the preservation of an inequitable economic system based on the export of cash crops. Using a traditional diplomatic-history approach of examining the records of midlevel U.S. government officials and the Council on Foreign Relations, Michael L. Krenn reaches similar conclusions about the contradictions between praising democracy and economic development while aiding dictators and support- ing a system of raw material production. See Krenn, The Chains of Interdependence: U.S. Policy Toward Central America (Armonk, NY, 1996).

40. Raymond Pulley, “The United States and the Dominican Republic: The High Price

of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (October 1965): 30.

41. Michael R. Hall, Sugar and Power in the Dominican Republic: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and

the Trujillos (Westport, CT, 2000), 1.

42. Ibid., 1.

43. Ibid., 141.

Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In : 633

success. Then came the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. embargo, and the three- million-ton Cuban sugar-quota “windfall” that could now be redistributed among other countries. Eisenhower sought to reduce the Dominican share of this windfall to prod Trujillo toward reform, but the dictator’s allies in Con- gress, acquired through years of strategic bribery and blackmail, prevented him from doing so. The limits of Dominican power were ultimately demonstrated when a group supported by the CIA assassinated Trujillo in 1961; afterwards, the Kennedy administration continued to use the threat of a reduction in the sugar quota to pressure Dominicans not to accept the attempt by Trujillo’s son Ramfis to succeed his father. Hall’s use of primary and secondary sources from both countries permits him to portray a bilateral relationship and the develop- ment of policy as an interactive process. Eric Paul Roorda’s The Dictator Next Door, dealing with the first half of Trujillo’s regime, displays great sensitivity to the “multiple lines of influence emanating from each country,” rather than writing a one-sided or even simple bilateral study. 44 Even more than the self-interested leader portrayed in Sugar and Power, here Trujillo presides over a regime in conflict with substantial U.S. interests: “The Dominican Republic became a difficult place to do business, a querulous participant in negotiations, and a major cause of Caribbean disquiet, including genocide, war scares, and assassinations.” 45 Yet Trujillo managed to hold onto and increase his power during these years, partly by persecuting first Fascists and then Communists (real and imagined), and partly by astutely rec- ognizing how to appeal to certain sectors in the United States. The familiar story of Trujillo’s payola-led development of a “Dominican lobby” in the U.S. Congress is fleshed out here through the use of Dominican archives. But Roorda goes far beyond a fuller accounting of such schemes. Drawing on Homi Bhabha’s concept of mimicry as a form of colonial resistance, 46 and writing with admirable clarity, Roorda explores Trujillo’s use of symbols designed to make U.S. officials feel a certain affinity with him. To disarm his critics, Trujillo delib- erately invoked the language of Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy (“mutual respect,” “affectionate reciprocity”), dubbed his agricultural policy the Domini- can New Deal, and nominated Roosevelt for the Nobel Peace Prize. The con- struction of the enormous Columbus lighthouse at Santo Domingo (finally completed in 1989), presented as an emblem of inter-American unity, was such an irresistible project that even State Department officials firmly opposed to the dictator, such as Sumner Welles, supported it. Roorda persuasively describes Trujillo’s exploitation of the cultural difference between the “striped pants” diplomats, who tried to remain aloof, and the “gold braid” U.S. military offi-

44. Eric Paul Roorda, The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo

Regime in the Dominican Republic, 19301945 (Durham, NC, 1998), 237.

45. Ibid., 2.

46. Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Men: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” in

October: The First Decade, 19761986, ed. Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, and Joan Copjec (Cambridge, MA, 1987), 31725.

634 : diplomatic


cers, who felt a common bond: the Marine-trained dictator “shared their crite- ria of progress, their comportment, and such symbols as uniforms, medals, and Their participation facilitated the continuation of the imperial link between the two countries, albeit on Trujillo’s terms.” In this way, “[W]hat began as mimicry became mastery.” 47 There are signs that Roorda’s sophisticated contribution may be a harbinger of future trends in the field: the successful blending of foreign and domestic sources and cultural and political approaches to international relations, written in a clear-eyed, nonideological style. Leading Latin Americanists have been calling for a broader understanding of political history as “integrative” history that combines the material and the cultural. They acknowledge that our atten- tion is properly fixed on the exercise of power, but that that power does not emanate only from Mao’s gun barrel or from the actions of the state; it is con- tained in symbols, identities, language, and everyday practices. 48 A marvelous collection of essays shows the potential for moving in this direc- tion. Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.–Latin American Relations draws inspiration from a number of sources, including Mary Louise Pratt’s concept of the “contact zone.” 49 Here, international encounters are played out among actors as diverse as individuals, states, corporations, tech- nologies, and ideologies, in a process that is not the simplified, one-way cre- ation of hegemony, but is marked by negotiation and exchange, collaboration and resistance, adaptation and imitation. Five incisive theoretical chapters explain and ten empirical studies explore how these insights can breathe life into the field. In her contribution, for example, Catherine C. LeGrand revises depen- dentista assessments of the United Fruit Company (UFCO). She begins by revis- iting Colombia’s banana-growing region, where Gabriel García Márquez had vividly compared UFCO’s arrival to a devastating hurricane wiping out every- thing in its path. 50 Her research in local archives and oral history interviews revealed a very different picture of the banana enclave: as a place of cultural exchange and contested power, where “deep-rooted local traditions and beliefs” survived UFCO’s introduction of international capitalism even as local elites increased their contacts with North America and Europe and the cash economy fueled corruption throughout society. 51 Michael J. Schroeder seeks to under-

47. Roorda, Dictator Next Door, 19091.

48. Gilbert M. Joseph, ed., Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History: Essays from the

North (Durham, NC, 2001).

49. Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore, eds., Close

Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Durham, NC, 1998); Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York,


50. Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] (Buenos

Aires, 1967).

51. Catherine C. LeGrand, “Living in Macondo: Economy and Culture in a United Fruit

Company Banana Enclave in Colombia,” in Joseph, LeGrand, and Salvatore, Close Encounters, 33368, quote at 356. For a broader (if less “thick”) description, see Thomas F. O’Brien, The Century of U.S. Capitalism in Latin America (Albuquerque, 1999).

Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In : 635

stand civil conflict in Nicaragua in the age of Augusto Sandino as a function of cultural patterns of violence in the Segovia mountain region, rather than a tale of either mere banditry or nationalist resistance to Marine invasion. 52 Thomas Miller Klubock explains the unexpected effect of the Braden Copper Company’s intrusive attempt to regulate its workers’ leisure time and sexuality to encour- age a stable, married workforce—triggering not accommodation but “an explo- sion of labor militancy.” 53 Other chapters take as their subjects marriage and divorce, painting, film, and health programs. The way these topics are handled, with care and always with attention to questions of evidence, should reassure any reader of this journal who may still wonder what cultural history is doing in its pages. For some time now, the image of diplomatic history (and Diplomatic History) as a walled city, its besieged defenders pouring cold water on the work of the innovative hordes below, has been out of date. The profession now rewards high-quality “integrative” work with book contracts, faculty positions, and prizes. 54 To be sure, some scholars of U.S. foreign relations still bristle at this approach, objecting that the “new cultural history” at best distracts us from analyzing the state’s pre-eminent role in determining events while we focus on colorful trivia, and at worst yields studies that obfuscate the mechanisms of power. 55 But power, in all its forms, is at the center of these studies. The editors of Close Encounters have also worked hard to prevent a clutter of postmodernist jargon from blocking the view. One can, nevertheless, find studies that revel in it. Cynthia Weber’s Faking It: U.S. Hegemony in a “Post-Phallic” Era delights in wordplay, beginning with the fact that Castro “literally means ‘I castrate.’” 56 Where another scholar might have done no more with this observation than to indulge in, say, a jibe at John F. Kennedy (who once famously claimed to have performed this operation upon Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis), Weber takes Castro’s name as inspiration into hemispheric relations, along these lines:

52. Michael J. Schroeder, “The Sandino Rebellion Revisited: Civil War, Imperialism,

Popular Nationalism, and State Formation Muddied Up Together in the Segovias of

Nicaragua, 19261934,” in Joseph, LeGrand, and Salvatore, Close Encounters, 20868.

53. Thomas Miller Klubock, “From Welfare Capitalism to the Free Market in Chile:

Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Copper Mines,” in Joseph, LeGrand, and Salvatore, Close Encounters, 36999.

54. See, for example, some of the recent winners of the SHAFR Bernath Book Prize: Mary

Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 19151940 (Chapel

Hill, NC, 2001); Joseph Henning, Outposts of Civilization: Race, Religion, and the Formative Years of American-Japanese Relations (New York, 2000); Jessica Gienow-Hecht, Transmission Impos- sible: American Journalism as Cultural Diplomacy in Postwar Germany, 19451955 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1999); and Roorda, Dictator Next Door.

55. Robert Buzzanco, “What Happened to the New Left? Toward a Radical Reading of

American Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 23, no. 4 (1999): 575607. For a judicious

assessment of the problems and potential of the new approaches, see Emilia Viotti da Costa, “New Publics, New Politics, New Histories: From Economic Reductionism to Cultural Reductionism—In Search of Dialectics,” in Joseph, Reclaiming the Political, 1731.

56. Cynthia Weber, Faking It: U.S. Hegemony in a “Post-Phallic” Era (Minneapolis, 1999),


636 : diplomatic


Because a castrator requires an object, a denotative reading of Castro’s name produces a castrating/castrated dichotomy that might structure U.S.-Cuban Castration, according to [Roland] Barthes, is contagious. In such a structure, Castro the castrator cannot escape becoming Castro the castrated. This denotatively derived structuring device can explain many aspects of U.S.-Cuban relations and should not be discarded. 57

Maybe not. The book does have an argument to make: that U.S. interventions in the Caribbean are caused by various forms of castration anxiety among its leaders. It seems likely to appeal to students of queer theory already comfortable reading sentences such as “The Caribbean Sea/See/Screen resists American advances by making America’s difference ‘known’ to those who (re)read/(re)view it,” rather than to more traditional students of U.S.–Latin American relations. 58 This is the unfortunate outcome of a writing strategy that confirms in the breach the value of the Close Encounters commitment to clarity and sober analysis—unfortunate, because just as examinations of the racial views inherent in the perspectives of U.S. policy-makers are now widely accepted, gender analyses still controversial in some quarters are making an indispensable con- tribution, as several rather less self-amused studies have shown. 59 Two trends in the recent literature hold promise for renewing a field that was acquiring a certain sameness. Restoring Latin America to the equation in terms of both agency and archives while turning to culture for a fuller under- standing of the scope of the political has helped bring us studies of inter- American relations that measure up to the richness of the subject. Given the ferment taking place throughout the field, we are likely to see a flourishing of such work in the future.

57. Ibid., 23.

58. Ibid., 138.

59. See, for example, Robert D. Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold

War Foreign Policy (Amherst, MA, 2001); K. A. Cuordileone, “Politics in an Age of Anxiety:

Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity, 19491960,” Journal of American History 87, no. 2 (September 2000): 51545; Emily S. Rosenberg, “Revisiting Dollar Diplomacy: Narratives of Money and Manliness,” Diplomatic History 22, no. 2 (Spring 1998):

17798; and Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, CT, 1998), the argument of which is more balanced and sensitive to multicausality than its title (and some critics) suggest.