Empire and Dissent: The United States and Latin America

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Since the early nineteenth century, the United States has repeatedly intervened in the affairs of Latin American nations to pursue its own interests and to “protect” those countries from other imperial powers or from internal “threats.” The resentment and opposition generated by the encroachment of U.S. power has been evident in the recurrent attempts of Latin American nations to pull away from U.S. dominance and in the frequent appearance of popular discontent and unrest directed against imperialist U.S. policies. In Empire and Dissent, senior Latin Americanists explore the interplay between various dimensions of imperial power and the resulting dissent and resistance.

Several essays provide historical perspective on contemporary U.S.–hemispheric relations. These include an analysis of the nature and dynamics of imperial domination, an assessment of financial relations between the United States and Latin America since the end of World War II, an account of Native American resistance to colonialism, and a consideration of the British government’s decision to abolish slavery in its colonies. Other essays focus on present-day conflicts in the Americas, highlighting various modes of domination and dissent, resistance and accommodation. Examining southern Mexico’s Zapatista movement, one contributor discusses dissent in the era of globalization. Other contributors investigate the surprisingly conventional economic policies of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; Argentina’s recovery from its massive 2001 debt default; the role of coca markets in the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales; and the possibilities for extensive social change in Venezuela. A readers’ guide offers a timeline of key events from 1823 through 2007, along with a list of important individuals, institutions, and places.

Contributors: Daniel A. Cieza, Gregory Evans Dowd, Steve Ellner, Neil Harvey, Alan Knight, Carlos Marichal, John Richard Oldfield, Silvia Rivera, Fred Rosen, Jeffrey W. Rubin

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Empire and Dissent is uniformly informative, insightful, and often provocative in the best of senses. This outstanding collection pairs a conceptually innovative and historiographically superior set of essays on empire in the Americas (Spanish, British, and United States) with country-specific chapters on resistance, dissent, and negotiation in contemporary Latin America. These insightful chapters reach beyond traditional course material on Latin American history and politics to address questions of globalization, social movements, and the conceptualization of resistance in an era of U.S. hegemonic power.”—Steven Volk, Oberlin College

“You can’t have one without the other: empire and dissent have defined American politics for nearly two centuries, producing, in Latin America, an enduring social democracy and, in the United States, an equally persistent evangelical liberalism. Fred Rosen’s knowledge of Latin American politics is formidable, and in this edited collection of essays he has given us an indispensable guide to a critical topic.”—Greg Grandin, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822342786
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Series: American Encounters/Global Interactions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,007,576
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Rosen is an independent journalist and political economist based in New York and Mexico City. He is a contributing editor to the NACLA Report on the Americas, a political columnist for the Mexico edition of The Miami Herald, and a co-editor of Latin America after Neoliberalism: Turning the Tide in the Twenty-first Century?

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Read an Excerpt



Duke University Press

Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4255-7

Chapter One



In this chapter I analyze the character and dynamics of the United States' putative imperialism or hegemony in Latin America and conclude by touching on the question of Latin American "resistance." However, since both topics are huge and protean and the capacity of one historian, writing one chapter, is necessarily limited, I will devote more space to hegemony. There is at least one obvious justification for this bias: hegemony is both chronologically and analytically antecedent to resistance; thus, as I argue in conclusion, the nature of hegemony affects the nature of resistance (although the story thereafter becomes dialectical, involving complicated feedback processes).

Broad comparisons of this kind demand some kind of conceptual framework. I regret that the framework I suggest is rather complicated, but it is not an a priori scholastic formulation. It owes relatively little to grand theories of empire (Lenin, Hobson), of world-systems (Wallerstein), or of hegemony (Keohane). It owes still less-apart, perhaps, from some emotive fuel-to fashionable advocates of U.S. imperialism (e.g., Ferguson). Rather, the framework is a posteriori, based on some years of reflection on the history of empires, especially the British and the American. It involves four perspectives, which may at first sight seem excessively complex and abstract, but which, I think, help organize the themes which follow.

1. The two modalities of imperialism (the main forms it takes: formal and informal).

2. The two functions of imperialism (the broad means employed by the imperialist power, what I call "engineering" and "defense").

3. The three mechanisms adopted to fulfill these functions (political, economic, and cultural).

4. The ultimate imperialist goals which these functions and mechanisms serve (which are too varied, elusive, and historically specific to permit a simple and useful typology, although the familiar triad of political, economic, and cultural could be wheeled out again).

Formal and Informal Empire

First, by modalities I mean the contrasting forms which imperialism assumes. In particular, I am thinking of the familiar distinction between "formal" and "informal" empire. The distinction is crucial, since U.S. imperialism has tended toward the informal, and if empire is equated solely with formal imperialism, one may wonder why the United States is being scrutinized in the first place. Also, since the fall of the Iberian empires in the New World in the early nineteenth century, Latin America-especially South America-has largely escaped formal imperialist rule, but has arguably experienced informal imperialist intervention or influence.

The notion of informal empire (or informal imperialism, hegemony, or paramountcy) is well established in both the historical and the social science literature. However, different scholars use different terms, and the implications of their terminology may differ, too. The formal-informal distinction conceals (at least) two different criteria, which are too readily conflated, and which should instead be differentiated and plotted along two separate axes: one axis denotes direct as against indirect rule; the other differentiates de jure (legal, legitimate, hence usually durable) control from de facto (illegal, illegitimate, hence often transitory) control. Axes are required because, like many social-scientific categories, these are not black-and-white alternatives-separate boxes into which cases can be neatly sorted-but rather continua, along which cases are distributed in scattered fashion.

Sometimes, the formal-informal distinction differentiates direct control from indirect control (by the hegemonic, imperialist, or paramount power). The key question, to quote Dahl, is: who governs? In formal empire the imperialist power enjoys direct control; in informal empire "natives" (usually, "collaborating elites," in Ronald Robinson's words) govern in cahoots with the imperial power. In fact, most of the great territorial empires of the world, painted the appropriate color on the map, have embodied large measures of informality. Metropolitan elites could not run the show single-handed, so they recruited collaborators: Mexican caciques, Andean kurakas, Nigerian emirs, Indian princes, Cuban políticos, Nicaraguan national guardsmen. The more formal an empire, in this sense, the more the imperial power assumed the direct tasks of administration: policing, defending, taxing, converting, educating, and developing.

French imperialism tended to be more formal, in this sense, than British. American imperialism has usually operated through highly informal control (hence, its imperial character has been denied, and more nuanced descriptives-such as hegemony-have sometimes been preferred). Direct administration incurs costs, in terms of both blood and treasure, and runs counter to American values of democracy and self-determination-values that were less influential when the great European empires of the nineteenth century (not to mention the sixteenth century) were being carved out. Indirect control covers a wide spectrum, ranging from semiautonomous fiefs within formal empires (e.g., the Indian princely states) to unequal and clientelist relations between "sovereign" powers, whereby one (in this case, the United States) exercises disproportionate power over another and can bend it to its own imperial will (for example, Guatemala in 1954).

The second axis corresponds more precisely to colors on the map and relates to the legality, the legitimacy, and (usually) the durability of imperialist control. A sudden U.S. intervention may create a pocket of empire in which the United States temporarily exercises direct rule. In Veracruz, in April 1914, for example, the Americans landed, cleaned up the port, and drove away the vultures; then, after seven months, the Americans left and the vultures returned. This occupation was short-lived and lacked both legality and legitimacy. In contrast, the huge area of northern Mexico that the United States sequestered in the 1840s was annexed, painted red on the map, and recognized as U.S. territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Continental expansion favored such acquisition and legitimization of conquest; thus, the U.S. land empire survived intact when the European maritime empires collapsed in the mid-twentieth century. Aside from Mexico, the other site of durable and legitimate U.S. imperialism has been the circum-Caribbean, where the United States has acquired at least one colony (Puerto Rico), several bases (Panama, Guantánamo), and quite a few protectorates (e.g., Cuba under the Platt Amendment, Haiti between 1915 and 1935, and the Dominican Republic between 1916 and 1924). In these cases, U.S. imperialism has been legitimized by formal cessions, treaties, and agreements which have validity in the eyes of the so-called civilized world or the "comity of nations."

This, of course, is an old story. In the past, during the heyday of European imperialism, such formal footholds often presaged more ambitious imperialist advance. A "treaty port" could afford a bridgehead for penetration of the interior; even more clearly, a formal agreement conferring partial (e.g., financial) control-like the Anglo-French condominium which controlled Egyptian finances after 1876-could be parlayed into a full-scale imperial takeover (hence, Egypt, 1882). In the U.S. case, such imperial escalation-"mission creep," to use contemporary jargon-has also occurred, but it has been offset by both U.S. antipathy to full-scale imperial takeovers and the capacity of the United States for devising more satisfactory alternative (informal) arrangements. (Thus, in particular cases, one may debate whether the U.S. preference for informality is a matter of values or of self-interest. While politicians like to ascribe it to values, I see [perceived] self-interest as paramount.) Thus, the four quadrants in the table can be identified and filled in with representative examples.

Both direct and indirect rule, as well as de jure and de facto control, serve imperial ends. What, in the cases under consideration, are those ends? One can frame the response in different ways (hence, my rather elaborate typology). First, one can tease out two basic functions of imperialism, applicable (as far as I can see) to all empires: Roman, Spanish, British, Soviet, American. Second, these functions in turn involve three mechanisms. Third, and finally, if one considers the historical peculiarities of each case, one can discern some ultimate goals, which differ from case to case (and which, by virtue of their great variation, defy simple answers). In looking at basic functions and mechanisms one is "lumping," that is, noting common features of imperialism, thus including the United States within a historical club (of imperialists), a membership that many Americans strenuously deny. When it comes to ultimate goals, however, one is "splitting": stressing differences and peculiarities.

The Functions of Empire

As regards basic functions, imperialist powers seek to do two things: (1) mold the "peripheral" society in such a way to suit imperial-metropolitan interests (however they may be defined); and (2) fend off rival imperial powers, thus preserving the benefits for the metropolis. The first might be called the engineering function, the second the defensive function. By and large, successful "engineering" requires a long-standing and often costly commitment to direct rule (or, failing that, some efficacious and congenial collaborators). The task roughly corresponds to what is today called, rather misleadingly, "nation building." Of course, the scale of the task depends on the desiderata: does the imperialist power seek a profitable economic dependency? A loyal strategic subordinate? A society that thinks, prays, plays, dresses, consumes, and conducts its politics as the imperialist power would like? All of the above? The more ambitious the goals (and the more recalcitrant the peripheral society), the more effort must be deployed and the more durable and dogged the imperial project must become. Arguably, the Spaniards-and perhaps the Jesuits, in particular-attempted the most ambitious social engineering in the Americas; but to this end the Spaniards had a peninsular prototype to work with (the Reconquista), cadres of keen imperialists (friars, merchants, officials) on whom they could rely, and some three hundred years in which to realize their project (which they did, with considerable success). In contrast, Britain's informal empire in Latin America was relatively brief and superficial. American informal empire, though more successful than the British, has yet to compare with its Iberian predecessor in terms of durable accomplishments. If this is true, one might ask whether the limits of American social engineering are set more by American incapacity or by Latin American resistance.

Compared to the social-engineering function, defense against foreign interlopers can be quite manageable. Defense involves both military and economic (and maybe also cultural) efforts. The bulk of the mainland Spanish Empire, for example, enjoyed some two hundred years of relative military security, and the Royal Navy sustained British trade and investment in Latin America for most of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century the United States faced few serious threats to its hegemony in the Americas (although it managed to discern and exaggerate quite a few not-so-serious ones). The pre-1918 German threat, the Axis challenge of the 1930s and 1940s, and even the Soviet threat after 1945 were all successfully countered, although in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the defensive function of the United States came close to triggering a nuclear war. Since the 1990s, the United States has been able to regard Latin America as geo-politically safe: no significant communist challenge, no rogue states, no terrorist threat to speak of. This resulted in the Bush administration's relative neglect of the region (compared to Asia), as exemplified by Treasury Secretary O'Neill's insouciant observations at the time of the Argentine economic-and political-crisis of July-August 2002.

But the defensive function of an imperialist power must also be economic. Spain's efforts to maintain mercantilist control of her American colonies failed in the later eighteenth century; Britain, after a brief heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, had to give ground to both Germany and the United States. U.S. economic dominance has, thus far, proved durable. It was greatly helped by two costly world wars, which gravely weakened one competitor (Britain) and, for a time, entirely eliminated the other (Germany), while fortifying the U.S. economy. And despite passing fears of Japanese penetration or of systemic U.S. decline, the United States does not appear to face an imminent challenge to its economic dominance in the Americas. Such a threat, however, were it to exist, would raise interesting questions. Formal imperial powers-those that undertake direct political control of their dependencies-can skew economic relations in their own favor (hence, Bourbon mercantilism, British imperial preference, the supposed underdevelopment or de-industrialization of India under the Raj). However, the more informal the relationship, the harder it becomes to use political control to compensate for economic decline. Would an economically embattled America-facing, let us say, a powerful federal Europe or a booming China-seek to use political (or even military) power to bolster its economic dominance in the Americas? It is hard to see how it could do so successfully. The maritime supremacy of the Royal Navy, for example, was of little use in countering U.S. and German commercial competition in late-nineteenth-century Latin America. Likewise, smart weapons and stealth bombers will not help U.S. business compete with China or the European Union in the early-twenty-first century. Such speculation may be futile, but it reveals how different mechanisms can be used to pursue the twin functions of engineering and defense. A good deal of international-relations thinking-and some international history, too-operates with an explicit or, more usually, implicit threefold typology of power: politicomilitary, economic, and cultural. One could summarize and colloquialize the typology thus: great powers can strong-arm their clients, bribe them, or contrive that they think along the same lines (thus, obviating the need for either strong-arming or bribery). This typology is, of course, excessively neat, and in any given bilateral relationship, all three forms of power may interact. Furthermore, there may be some complex causal links: strong-arming in the past may create a disposition to collaborate in the present (thus, "to think along the same lines" even if there are no gunboats heaving into sight on the horizon). As the Spanish proverb has it, "Gato escaldo del agua fría huye" (A scalded cat flees cold water).


Excerpted from EMPIRE AND DISSENT Copyright © 2008 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

Acknowledgments vii

A Reader's Guide ix

Introduction / Fred Rosen 1

Part I. Empire in the Americas: Historical Reflections

1. U.S. Imperialist/Hegemony and Latin American Resistance / Alan Knight 23

2. "We Are Heirs-apparent to the Romans": Imperial Myths and Indigenous Status / Gregory Evans Dowd 53

3. The Finances of Hegemony in Latin America: Debt Negotiations and the Role of the U.S. Government, 1945-2005 / Carlos Marichal 90

Part II. Empire and Resistance in the Twenth-First Century

5. Beyond Hegemony: Zapatismo, Empire, and Dissent / Neil Harvey 117

6. Colonialism and Ethnic Resistance in Bolivia: A View from the Coca Markets / Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui 137

7. High Stakes in Brazil: Can Democracy Take on Empire? / Jeffrey W. Rubin 162

8. From Menem to Kirchner: National Autonomy and Social Movements in Argentina / Daniel A. Cieza 188

9. The Hugo Chavez Phenomenon: Anti-imperialism from Above or Radical Democracy from Below? / Steve Ellner 205

Bibliography 229

Contributors 251

Index 253

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