The Dictator's Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo

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Overview


The dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, was one of the longest and bloodiest in Latin American history. The Dictator’s Seduction is a cultural history of the Trujillo regime as it was experienced in the capital city of Santo Domingo. Focusing on everyday forms of state domination, Lauren Derby describes how the regime infiltrated civil society by fashioning a “vernacular politics” based on popular idioms of masculinity and fantasies of race and class mobility. Derby argues that the most pernicious aspect of the dictatorship was how it appropriated quotidian practices such as gossip and gift exchange, leaving almost no place for Dominicans to hide or resist.

Drawing on previously untapped documents in the Trujillo National Archives and interviews with Dominicans who recall life under the dictator, Derby emphasizes the role that public ritual played in Trujillo’s exercise of power. His regime included the people in affairs of state on a massive scale as never before. Derby pays particular attention to how events and projects were received by the public as she analyzes parades and rallies, the rebuilding of Santo Domingo following a major hurricane, and the staging of a year-long celebration marking the twenty-fifth year of Trujillo’s regime. She looks at representations of Trujillo, exploring how claims that he embodied the popular barrio antihero the tíguere (tiger) stoked a fantasy of upward mobility and how a rumor that he had a personal guardian angel suggested he was uniquely protected from his enemies. The Dictator’s Seduction sheds new light on the cultural contrivances of autocratic power.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Lauren Derby has written a fascinating cultural history of the brutal, three-decade-long Trujillo regime, illustrating the complex and complicit relationship between the dictator and the Dominican pueblo.” - Allen Wells, The Americas

“What is fascinating about Derby’s study is her ability to pull from a variety of primary sources to support her methodology and topics addressed throughout text. Her study draws on several important and untapped archival documents from international and domestic repositories in addition to oral histories that reveal the voices of the popular masses.” - Christina Violeta Jones, The Latin Americanist

The Dictator’s Seduction is an outstanding and original book that is surprising in its originality and depth and displays a clear command of this period in Dominican history. Experts and beginning students of Dominican affairs will find this book a worthy read.” - Frank Moya Pons, Americas Quarterly

“Derby’s cultural history of the Era of Trujillo is a valuable contribution to the
study of the regime. Her research, which is enhanced by her use of anthropological tools, should serve as a guide to historians as they reevaluate other twentieth-century Latin American dictatorships. An engaging and well-written study, The Dictator’s Seduction will benefit scholars and students of Dominican history.” - Michael R. Hall, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Lauren Derby’s book changes our understanding of Rafael Trujillo’s infamous dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. . . . This is a creative, original, and ambitious book. It is full of insights and wonderful ideas. . . . Derby turns received historical interpretations upside down. She does not shy away from controversy; indeed, she seems to seek it. In my view that is what it takes to be a very good historian.” - Elizabeth Dore, American Historical Review

“Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Dictator’s Seduction is essential reading for scholars of repressive regimes and the machinery of violence that keeps dictators in power. Rafael Trujillo insinuated himself into his citizens’ public and private lives. Lauren Derby connects Trujillo’s backstage political machinations and private obsessions with his public image and spectacles.”—Denise Brennan, author of What’s Love Got to Do with It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic

“Lauren Derby turns much of the conventional wisdom about Rafael Trujillo on its head, and she backs up her revision with powerful archival evidence. This fascinating book will also be regarded as a masterwork of comparative research on authoritarianism and the politics of innuendo, spectacle, and symbolism.”—Eric Paul Roorda, author of The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945

“The character of dictatorship—with its paradoxical reliance on coercive excess and pandering to the demos—has fascinated generations of Latin America’s most exciting fiction writers, from Miguel Ángel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier to Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dictator’s Seduction is an historian’s counterpart to this literature. Lauren Derby develops the ideas of these writers, takes further insights from anthropologists who have worked on state magic, and produces a methodologically innovative and entirely fresh history of the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo. This is one of the most exciting works in contemporary Latin American political history.”—Claudio Lomnitz, author of Death and the Idea of Mexico

From the Publisher

“Lauren Derby has written a fascinating cultural history of the brutal, three-decade-long Trujillo regime, illustrating the complex and complicit relationship between the dictator and the Dominican pueblo.” - Allen Wells, The Americas

“What is fascinating about Derby’s study is her ability to pull from a variety of primary sources to support her methodology and topics addressed throughout text. Her study draws on several important and untapped archival documents from international and domestic repositories in addition to oral histories that reveal the voices of the popular masses.” - Christina Violeta Jones, The Latin Americanist

The Dictator’s Seduction is an outstanding and original book that is surprising in its originality and depth and displays a clear command of this period in Dominican history. Experts and beginning students of Dominican affairs will find this book a worthy read.” - Frank Moya Pons, Americas Quarterly

“Derby’s cultural history of the Era of Trujillo is a valuable contribution to the
study of the regime. Her research, which is enhanced by her use of anthropological tools, should serve as a guide to historians as they reevaluate other twentieth-century Latin American dictatorships. An engaging and well-written study, The Dictator’s Seduction will benefit scholars and students of Dominican history.” - Michael R. Hall, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Lauren Derby’s book changes our understanding of Rafael Trujillo’s infamous dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. . . . This is a creative, original, and ambitious book. It is full of insights and wonderful ideas. . . . Derby turns received historical interpretations upside down. She does not shy away from controversy; indeed, she seems to seek it. In my view that is what it takes to be a very good historian.” - Elizabeth Dore, American Historical Review

“Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Dictator’s Seduction is essential reading for scholars of repressive regimes and the machinery of violence that keeps dictators in power. Rafael Trujillo insinuated himself into his citizens’ public and private lives. Lauren Derby connects Trujillo’s backstage political machinations and private obsessions with his public image and spectacles.”—Denise Brennan, author of What’s Love Got to Do with It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic

“Lauren Derby turns much of the conventional wisdom about Rafael Trujillo on its head, and she backs up her revision with powerful archival evidence. This fascinating book will also be regarded as a masterwork of comparative research on authoritarianism and the politics of innuendo, spectacle, and symbolism.”—Eric Paul Roorda, author of The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945

“The character of dictatorship—with its paradoxical reliance on coercive excess and pandering to the demos—has fascinated generations of Latin America’s most exciting fiction writers, from Miguel Ángel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier to Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dictator’s Seduction is an historian’s counterpart to this literature. Lauren Derby develops the ideas of these writers, takes further insights from anthropologists who have worked on state magic, and produces a methodologically innovative and entirely fresh history of the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo. This is one of the most exciting works in contemporary Latin American political history.”—Claudio Lomnitz, author of Death and the Idea of Mexico

Frank Moya Pons

The Dictator’s Seduction is an outstanding and original book that is surprising in its originality and depth and displays a clear command of this period in Dominican history. Experts and beginning students of Dominican affairs will find this book a worthy read.”
Michael R. Hall

“Derby’s cultural history of the Era of Trujillo is a valuable contribution to the study of the regime. Her research, which is enhanced by her use of anthropological tools, should serve as a guide to historians as they reevaluate other twentieth-century Latin American dictatorships. An engaging and well-written study, The Dictator’s Seduction will benefit scholars and students of Dominican history.”
Allen Wells

“Lauren Derby has written a fascinating cultural history of the brutal, three-decade-long Trujillo regime, illustrating the complex and complicit relationship between the dictator and the Dominican pueblo.”
Elizabeth Dore

“Lauren Derby’s book changes our understanding of Rafael Trujillo’s infamous dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. . . . This is a creative, original, and ambitious book. It is full of insights and wonderful ideas. . . . Derby turns received historical interpretations upside down. She does not shy away from controversy; indeed, she seems to seek it. In my view that is what it takes to be a very good historian.”
Christina Violeta Jones

“What is fascinating about Derby’s study is her ability to pull from a variety of primary sources to support her methodology and topics addressed throughout text. Her study draws on several important and untapped archival documents from international and domestic repositories in addition to oral histories that reveal the voices of the popular masses.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822344827
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/2009
  • Series: American Encounters/Global Interactions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 600,770
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Derby is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

THE DICTATOR'S SEDUCTION

Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo
By LAUREN DERBY

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4486-5


Chapter One

THE DOMINICAN BELLE ÉPOQUE, 1922

I, as a civilized man and as a citizen of a free country, could not understand as yet, nor can I ever, that a country so advanced and so democratic and so successful at achieving republican practice, could have invaded a sovereign country-the Dominican Republic-with troops, and treated us as though we were Negros from the Congo. We were friends of the United States. We would have helped them during the war with Germany. PEDRO A. PÉREZ Gentlemen, I believe the Dominican people until that moment loved the people of the United States, and I hope the Dominican people still love the American people as I love them. All the depredations, the injuries to the lives of the Dominicans, all the bad actions of the troops, are secondary questions for me. The principal question is that there was no reason at all, no right at all, to land troops on Dominican territory and to impose on peaceful people like the Dominicans, who were not at war with the United States and who loved the United States, a military government for over five years. That is my principal grievance, and all others are secondary. FRANCISCO PEYNADO, INQUIRY INTO OCCUPATION OF HAITI AND SANTO DOMINGO

On 21 January 1922, at the height of the United States military occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916-24), Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of Altagracia) was "crowned" amid a groundswell of popular nationalism that drew some thirty thousand devotees to the capital city of Santo Domingo, as well as a veritable army of international clerics from Latin America; considering that the capital population was twenty-one thousand in 1916, this was a very impressive sum. Aside from the group of high-ranking Vatican representatives charged with officiating the service, the delegates resembled a Pan American congress, with representatives drawn from Venezuela, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Curaçao, to name but a sample. The ensuing crowd choked city thoroughfares with carriages and cars; masses of pilgrims thronged public office buildings, galleries, and parks, camping a full week before the ceremonies began. Dressed in their Sunday best, scores of peasants sang salves (religious songs), awaiting the visitation along the roads. Those who missed the festivities in person could see them recreated on the silver screen in the first Dominican film ever made, a fictionalized reconstruction called La leyenda de Nuestra Señora de Altagracia, or in a documentary of the event entitled El milagro de la virgin. Of course, the real miracle occurred on the day after the coronation, when the U.S. Marines announced the details of their evacuation plan. If the marines were bewildered by these events, the nationalist message of the Virgin of Altagracia's coronation as patron saint of the republic was loud and clear to Dominicans. Santo Domingo was bathed in flags for the occasion, and the Virgin's portrait processed atop a model replicating the twelve provinces. Through its investiture, the Virgin became a synecdoche for the resurrected Dominican nation, one which appealed to a higher, more noble authority than the U.S. Marines. Casting Jorge Washington as a saint, they called upon his guiding spirit to demand justice and rights and to serve as the protector of the weak nations of the world. When he failed them, they invoked the Virgin of Altagracia.

Once a regional symbol of the easternmost province of Higüey, the Virgin was now enshrined as the national numen. The coronation conveyed the message that the United States might control the bureaucracy of the capital city, the bloodless infrastructure of authority, but the Virgin of Altagracia governed the national spirit. At a time when the national body was stripped, bound, and rendered mute by the occupying forces, the Virgin spoke for the Dominican pueblo. Indeed, several people even had their speech restored by her holy presence. Her message was feisty-levantate y camino (get up and walk)-fight the Yankis and reclaim the country. The Virgin had become the avatar of both elite and popular resistance to the marine government, encoding an ardent rejection of the values intrinsic to their secular missionizing impulse and state-building project. The coronation expressed a worldview at odds with the utilitarian pragmatism of the U.S. military, one that privileged morality over money, salvation over progress, and spiritual authority over secular democracy. The Virgin spoke as an instrument of hierarchy and as an affirmation of moral authority. The coronation articulated what Claudio Lomnitz has termed a "peripheral cosmopolitanism," an alternative vision of modernity that patently declared against the path of Anglo Saxon utilitarianism, yet forcefully expressed the power of nationalism in this small island nation which, since the nineteenth century, had had its national autonomy compromised like no other in Latin America.

Woodrow Wilson had landed U.S. Marines on Dominican shores in 1916, ostensibly to put a stop to a series of internecine political struggles that had erupted with the assassination of Ramón Cáceres (1906-11) and were eroding the nation's fiscal stability. Between Ulises Heureaux's departure from office in 1899 and 1916, thirteen presidents had been inaugurated. Outstanding loans to Germany and Great Britain created fears of foreign takeover. The marines were responsible for the formation of the first national constabulary in the country, which they assumed would bring stability to Dominican politics after a period of revolutionary tumult; yet this very force eventually enabled Rafael Trujillo to ascend to the presidency through a disguised military coup. The formation of a national military was not the only reason why a shift in Dominican political life occurred during the occupation, however. The intervention also precipitated a crisis in the liberal project, one that had promised progress and development through free trade and foreign investment. The reigning optimism about national progress and development that had emerged with the sugar boom collapsed with the U.S. military occupation and the 1921 depression, as liberalism and the doctrine of open markets were seen to bring not growth but rather economic and political dependency.

In this chapter I argue that the crisis of liberalism precipitated a crisis of masculinity for Dominican manhood, one that helped usher Trujillo into office as reformers called for a new style of presidentialism to more effectively keep the rabble down and thus the United States out. This model of sovereignty broke with the white, secular, liberal model of propriety of the doctores, elegant prohombres with their Panama hats; drawing upon the strongman profile of the caudillo, the new form of rule was based on force, and it became far more repressive than that of nineteenth-century caudillo rivalries. Nineteenth-century struggles between the bolos and the rabudos, or bob-tailed versus long-tailed cocks, were surprisingly bloodless notwithstanding the fact that they were termed revolutions. This changed, however, with the occupation.

United States expansion was in part a project to restore dominance and thus manliness to American foreign policy. As Mary Renda has demonstrated for the case of Haiti, "interventionist paternalism" was a complex tactic of rule, casting the marines as caring fathers who should avail themselves of discipline as needed. From ousting Dominican statesmen from the National Palace, to banning cockfights, to forcibly disarming the rural population, United States occupation policies cut at the core of Dominican male agency. This was not lost on nationalists who descried that "the Dominican people, whose virility and dignity can not be questioned, neither needs nor accepts guardianship." The occupation also brought to the surface certain basic contradictions within liberal thought, since the marines' agenda of statism and tutelary democracy had also been key tenets of Dominican liberalism until Dominicans saw these carried out by bayonet. As press freedoms were curtailed and martial law imposed, Dominicans were able only to voice their objections piecemeal about discrete policies and their failures. They expressed their resistance indirectly, however, by taking issue with key symbols of U.S. penetration, from dance styles to the dollar, and above all with the new modern woman, who became a popular scapegoat for what was seen as the corrosive underside of marine rule.

DOMINICAN NERVOUSNESS

As they became aware that U.S. withdrawal was contingent on the performance of Dominicans as responsible citizens, Dominican elites developed an acute concern with public comportment during the occupation. Yet this new self-consciousness-this new sense of being watched-did not commence in 1916. A growing strategy for ensuring United States hegemony in the Caribbean, which almost rendered the Dominican Republic a U.S. overseas territory in 1865, was followed in the 1890s with large-scale U.S. corporate expansion in sugar for the American market and a bilateral reciprocity treaty. The United States became directly involved in Dominican political life in 1907 when it took over customs revenues, a move that in effect rendered the country a protectorate; it established a presence backed by threat of force in 1912, when it sent its first contingent of marines to the country. As Ada Ferrer has shown for Cuba, liberals felt they needed to persuade the marines of their capacity for republican rule, of their capability for keeping their own house in order. With emancipation in 1822, Dominicans, unlike Cubans, did not have the recent ghost of slavery and "African savagery" to contend with, but they did have a period of tumultuous political strife at the turn of the century which had forged the image in Washington that Dominican leadership was prone to violence and lacked the necessary self-control for effective governance. The assumption at that time, of course, was that "only civilized white men had evolved the advanced intellectual and moral capacity to master their masculine passions." And as a nation of browns, it was not entirely clear which side of the divide Dominican men were on.

In 1906 the first guidebook presenting the Dominican nation to the world declared its intention to show what was propitious to the "development of civilization" there and the genialidad moral e intellectual (moral and intellectual genius) of the country; it thus presented photos of elegant Dominican women and Creole waltzes, poetry and essays on social and political thought, as well as descriptions of the provinces, lists of laws, and advertisements. The image is one of Victorian refinement and decorum, a thoroughly Europeanized image of polite society.

The text of a guidebook produced in 1920 indicates that Dominicans still felt they had something to prove:

The Dominican people are at peace with themselves and with the world, and the men of the country, and more especially the youth, just budding into manhood, who form the backbone of this country, and on whom depend the future government, prosperity, and standing of the country among the nations of the world, are fast learning that greater honor, prestige and personal gain may be won from the work of developing and building up their country than from spending their good time and energy in political broils and revolutions, in order to secure some government position, here today and lost tomorrow, and the American intervention will have been a complete success, if the young men of the Dominican Republic can get this point of view.

The image of the Dominican male presented in this passage is impulsive, violent, and prone to revolution, lacking the self-restraint requisite to respectable manhood. This idea underwrote the necessity of United States tutelage. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Lybrand Smith rejected the Spenglerian position that Dominicans were a young race that could develop its own form of civilization. In his view, miscegenation had tainted Dominican stock such that "if the Dominican nation is to exist it must do so under the guidance of a stronger race." And Dominicans were keenly aware of this view. As one observer noted, "The foreign press considers us a nation of savages" and that assumption had enabled the United States to take on its "absurd exercise as tutors." Like testosterone-ridden adolescents, however, Dominicans were evolving under U.S. rule and developing the force of will necessary for good government. Under the scrutiny of the U.S. Marines, Dominicans urged each other to "overcome, be superior to the environment; that is the way we will progress." In accordance with Gustave Le Bon's crowd theory, Dominican men needed to demonstrate their gentility. They had to show that they were superior to the rural crowd, which was at base rough and irrational, entirely lacking control over its passions, and with a tendency to succumb to a primitive mentality and state of nature, especially given the "racial deficiency" of the country. The innate atavism of crowds required strong leadership for guidance.

The U.S. vision of the Dominican Republic as "democratically illiterate," however, was shared by liberal Dominican elites such as Américo Lugo, whose call for political reform and specifically for a regime of tutelary democracy dated from the turn of the century. The rise of Dominican liberalism and its developmental thrust in the nineteenth century was accompanied by an increasingly disparaging view of the peasantry, as the rural poor became the scapegoat for the nation's lack of progress. In the words of Lugo, "Our peasants [are] an ignorant race that vegetate without hygiene, prisoners of the most repugnant sicknesses, that, due to their lack of foresight, their violence and their duplicity, are generally incestuous, gamblers, alcoholics, thieves and murderers."

The exemplary role of the state changed in accordance with this negative vision of the dangerous classes. As the peasantry came to resemble a force of criminality, the state correspondingly required a more draconian presence. Lugo complained that the Dominican people issued from a Spanish heritage of individualism bordering on anarchism and an African lineage of indolence-a deadly combination that entirely inhibited the formation of a viable national community. And since the people were not yet a nation and were as yet incapable of self-government, the only option left was the formation of a nation through the state. Lugo called for immigration, "tutelary law," and a truly nationalist education to reshape the Dominican citizenry. He invoked an "enlightened minority" (minoría illustrada)-a dictatorship of the intelligentsia-not to govern the masses per se but to shape them through education and eventually prepare them for democracy. Lugo was influenced by the Puerto Rican educational reformer Eugenio María de Hostos, for whom education was the sole avenue of advance toward the civilizing process of which the United States was the emblematic figurehead; as Hostos observed, "To civilize is to make coherent societies that lack cohesion." Lugo invested utopian hopes in education and its transformative powers if it could be truly nationalized. He also argued that civic education was a necessary antidote to and preventive measure against foreign occupation. Pedro Henríquez Ureña also championed the U.S. public education system inspired by John Dewey with its practical emphasis, since education was obligatory yet free of charge.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE DICTATOR'S SEDUCTION by LAUREN DERBY Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction Populism as Vernacular Practice 1

1 The Dominican Belle Époque, 1922 25

2 San Zenón and the Making of Ciudad Trujillo 66

3 The Master of Ceremonies 109

4 Compatriotas! El Jefe Calls 135

5 Clothes Make the Man 173

6 Trujillo's Two Bodies 204

7 Papá Liborio and the Morality of Rule 227

Conclusion Charisma and the Gift of Recognition 257

Notes 267

Bibliography 351

Index 391

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