Fred Rosen. Empire and Dissent: The United States and Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. 288 S. $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8223-4255-7; $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8223-4278-6.
Reviewed by William M. Schmidli (Cornell University)
Published on H-Diplo (January, 2009)
Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball
Questions of Empire
Studies of U.S. imperialism, as Fred Rosen notes in the introduction to Empire and Dissent, have become something of a cottage industry in recent years. U.S. imperial ambitions are denigrated by critics and celebrated by neoconservative advocates of a “hard-Wilsonianism” purporting to export democracy “from the barrel of a gun.” This collection of essays, the most recent contribution to the American Encounters/Global Interactions series edited by Gilbert M. Joseph and Emily S. Rosenberg, sets out to explore the workings of U.S. empire in its historically most pervasive locale, with the express intention of examining “the question of ‘empire,’ the various forms of resistance, dissent, and/or accommodation it generates, and the ways it has manifested itself in the Americas” (p. 5). Part 1, “Empire in the Americas: Historical Reflection,” takes a historical approach, while part 2, “Empire and Resistance in the Twenty-First Century,” shifts the analytical focus to the present with country-specific case studies.
For historians of U.S. foreign relations, Carlos Marichal’s essay, “The Finances of Hegemony in Latin America: Debt Negotiations and the Role of the U.S. Government, 1945-2005,” provides a concise and cogent survey of a critical, yet surprisingly under-examined facet of U.S.-Latin American relations in the post-World War II era. Emphasizing U.S. economic power, Marichal compares early postwar debt resolutions, the renegotiations of the 1980s, and the U.S. responses to the financial crises in Mexico in the mid-1990s and Argentina in 2001-02. After tracking the shift from primarily domestic-financed import-substitution industrialization (ISI) to the petrodollar-fueled loan boom of the 1970s, Marichal uses the Mexican financial crises to demonstrate the United States' use of debt renegotiation as leverage to encourage neoliberal reforms, as well the increasing U.S. role in regulating financial markets. In both instances, Marichal makes it clear that financial policy played a significant role in the maintenance of U.S. hegemony; in the 1970s, he argues, “international and multilateral banks funneled substantial sums of money precisely to the military dictatorships and authoritarian governments that reigned in Latin America ... most of them with clear support of the Pentagon and of the U.S. government,” while the subsequent adaptation of neoliberal reforms made it possible for the United States “to carry out new programs of financial engineering,” such as the controversial Brady Plan (p. 100).
U.S. economic power also figures prominently in Alan Knight’s essay, “U.S. Imperialism/Hegemony and Latin American Resistance,” an ambitious attempt to determine the “character and dynamics” of U.S. imperialism in the region (p. 23). Knight divides his analytical framework into four themes: the main “modalities” of imperialism (i.e., formal or informal rule); the “functions,” or means utilized (engineering and/or defense); the political, economic, and cultural “mechanisms” used to achieve those functions; and the ultimate “goals to which these functions and mechanisms serve” (p. 24). Knight’s conclusions will not surprise historians of U.S.-Latin American relations. Predicated on military and economic strength, U.S. hegemony in Latin America was maintained through informal means--although U.S. policy toward the circum-Caribbean region tended more toward direct rule than in South America--with the ultimate goal of “molding host regimes” to U.S. preferences and “fending off rival imperialists” (p. 32). Nonetheless, Knight’s adaptation of Geir Lundestad’s influential analysis of U.S. relations with Western Europe to the Latin American landscape is innovative; thanks to pro-U.S. elites, American hegemony in Latin America, Knight argues, was “a species of ‘empire by invitation’” (p. 36).
Historians looking for a concrete definition of U.S. imperialism/hegemony in Latin America may find Knight’s thematic approach a bit unsatisfying, as his effort to place U.S. imperialism in a global comparative perspective--rather than focusing on the distinct nature of U.S. relations with its southern neighbors--at times obscures more than illuminates. Situating the United States within a milieu of informal empires utilizing local-level collaborators, for example, including “Mexican caciques, Andean kurakas, Nigerian emirs, Indian princes, Cuban políticos, [and] Nicaraguan national guardsmen,” Knight risks eliding the unique characteristics of U.S.-Latin American relations, while the explanatory power of assertions, such as “the Jesuits won many more hearts and minds in Spanish America than the Office of Inter-American Affairs [OIAA] or the CIA ever did,” is unclear (pp. 25, 29).
An inexactitude regarding the nature of the U.S. empire carries over into the case studies in the second part of Empire and Dissent. In “The Hugo Chávez Phenomenon: Anti-imperialism from Above or Radical Democracy from Below?” Steve Ellner offers a compelling examination of the interplay--and tension--between state-driven policymaking and bottom-up participatory democracy in Venezuela. Detailing Chávez’s increasingly radical rejection of neoliberalism, Ellner asserts that Chavismo challenges the notion that “in the age of globalization alternatives to the policies of the Washington Consensus are impossible” (pp. 222-223). Ellner nicely articulates Chávez’s unique brand of populism; beyond demonstrating Venezuelan resistance to the strictures of neoliberalism, however, he does not delve into the nature of U.S. empire for Venezuela in the twenty-first century. This is a curious omission in light of the significance of anti-Americanism in Chávez’s maintenance of political power, and, since the invasion of Iraq, the relatively limited political attention the United States has accorded to Venezuela (and Latin America in general).
Similarly, Jeffrey W. Rubin’s essay “High Stakes in Brazil: Can Democracy Take on Empire?” is a cogent analysis of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s shift from a progressive socioeconomic reform platform to economic orthodoxy and the tension it has engendered among both members of Lula’s own Workers Party (PT) and grassroots activist organizations, such as the Rural Women Workers Movement. “Empire” in Rubin’s estimation is apparently shorthand for “U.S.-promoted neoliberal policies,” principally the 3.75 percent budget surplus required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Brazil to be considered “credit-worthy” (p. 174). Rubin incisively argues that adherence to the IMF’s stipulations has significantly limited Lula’s ability to enact major social welfare policies. The author gives little explanation, however, for his decision to shoehorn U.S. policy toward Brazil within the confines of the Washington Consensus on economic development, eliding the international nature of such lending organizations as the IMF and the World Bank.
As Ellner and Rubin’s essays demonstrate, Empire and Dissent does not provide a single, clear-cut definition of U.S. empire in Latin America. Is U.S. imperialism synonymous with empire? Does U.S. economic hegemony in the region constitute empire? In the introduction, Rosen complicates matters further, describing not a single U.S. empire, but “empires” including--but presumably not limited to--“military, economic, political, [and] cultural” components. These empires engender unique “multidimensional responses from their subjects,” Rosen asserts, creating a process “that is continuously unfolding, changing, and delivering surprises throughout the imperial lifespan” (p. 18). The curious inclusion in part 1 of Gregory Evans Dowd’s “‘We are Heirs-Apparent to the Romans’: Imperial Myths and Indigenous Status” and John Richard Oldfield’s “Slavery, Abolition, and Empire” expands the parameters of study still further. Focusing on Native American resistance to the British colonial expansion in North America in the 1760s and the rise of the British antislavery movement in the early nineteenth century, respectively, the essays--though insightful in their own right--seem out of place in a volume examining U.S. relations with Latin America.
Neil Harvey’s “Beyond Hegemony: Zapatismo, Empire, and Dissent” provides a welcome dose of clarity. Drawing on the neo-Marxist approach of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Empire, 2000), Harvey convincingly situates the Zapatista movement as both resistance to the U.S. brand of imperialism (“a system in which dominant-nation states compete for control of territory and resources in order to enhance their own national power”) and, more significantly, a rejection of “Empire” (“a global network of power relations that perpetuate capitalism through the constant reorganization of social life and natural resources”) (p. 120). The global resonance of the Zapatistas’ demands for social justice, Harvey argues, underscores the diffuse, multinational nature of Empire. Although in the Mexican context U.S. imperialism and Empire can overlap, in the Zapatista call “to resist global capitalism and, through collective resistance, build new forms of social cooperation and communication,” both Washington and Mexico City constitute sites of Empire (p. 133).
Similarly, in “Colonialism and Ethnic Resistance in Bolivia,” Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui uses the production of coca for consumption (for chewing, making tea, etc.) as a lens to analyze indigenous resistance to the U.S. war on drugs and neoliberal policies, and the legacy of ethnic discrimination within Bolivian society. By rejecting the indio permitido identity, a “neutralized and sanitized version of the indigenous” that “does not recognize the Indian’s capacity to face the challenges of regional and world markets of global commodities,” Bolivian coca producers, Cusicanqui argues, inhabit an alternative modernity “based in interregional market circuits more organic and healthy than those brought by the imposed and colonized version of liberal and neoliberal modernity” (p. 155). Bolivian resistance to “empire,” for Cusicanqui, is thus linked to notions of indigenous cultural identity, regional economic development, and national sovereignty.
Daniel A. Cieza’s essay, “From Menem to Kirchner: National Autonomy and Social Movements in Argentina,” examines the effect of neoliberal policies applied to Argentina during the two-term presidency of Carlos Menem (1989-99). Menemism, Cieza cogently argues, resulted in the “weakening of the national state, the bankruptcy of the productive apparatus, an agricultural crisis, the transfer of major parts of the economy into foreign hands, and the weakening of labor and social legislation” (p. 192). Although neoliberalism constitutes the heart of Cieza’s analysis, he also links the Menem era to broader trends in U.S. foreign policy. Underscoring the significance of Latin American policymaking vis-à-vis the United States on the international stage--a theme that is rarely discussed in Empire and Dissent--Cieza emphasizes that Menem’s foreign policy was influenced by close alignment with the United States. Menem, he writes, “sent ships to the Persian Gulf in 1990, withdrew from the Non-Aligned Movement, signed non-nuclear-proliferation treaties, and consistently voted against Cuba in international assemblies” (p. 195). The contrast with Néstor Kirchner could hardly be more dramatic; Cieza applauds Kirchner for enhancing Argentines’ “sense of national dignity” by asserting independence from international economic organizations and refusing to blindly follow U.S. prescriptions in international forums, such as the Organization of American States (p. 202).
Taken as a whole, Empire and Dissent has much to offer graduate students and scholars engaged in contemporary Latin American responses to neoliberalism, at both state and local levels. The prose is clear and accessible, and nonspecialists will appreciate a nine-page “Reader’s Guide” consisting of a timeline running from the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine to the 2007 election of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, as well as a glossary of significant individuals, institutions, events, and places. Although historians of U.S.-Latin American relations will find the overriding emphasis on neoliberalism--in the absence of a more concrete definition of U.S. empire--rather narrow in conception, Empire and Dissent nonetheless provides a useful analysis of U.S. relations with Latin America, particularly in the post-9/11 era.
. Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 88.
. Geir Lundestad, “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945-1952,” Journal of Peace Research 23 (1986): 263-277.
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