G. Pope Atkins, Larman C. Wilson. The Dominican Republic and the United States: From Imperialism to Transnationalism. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1998. xiv + 293 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8203-1931-5; $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8203-1930-8.
Reviewed by Dennis R. Hidalgo (Virginia Tech)
Published on H-LatAm (October, 1999)
Dominicans within US Hegemony
People interested in Latin American and Spanish Caribbean music often know something about Juan Luis Guerra and his popular bachata-merengue music. In a song written during a protracted economic recession, El Costo de la Vida (The Cost of Life), this respected Dominican interpreter and composer tells Dominicans that "a nadie le importa que piensa usted, sera porque aqui no hablamos ingles" (nobody cares what you think perhaps because we do not speak English here). Guerra continues illustrating the position of Dominican Republic in world affairs: "Somos un agujero en medio del mar y el cielo" (we are an orifice between the sea and heaven). Listeners may infer from these words a simple manifestation of self-pity, or, possibly, a phrase designed to produce a smile accompanied with good rhythm. After all, Dominicans are clever musicians and have the remarkable ability to bring about a good dose of humor even in discordant circumstances (a mal tiempo, buena cara).
Regardless of his artistic intentions, Guerra gave expression to a deep-seated emotion noticeable in the Dominican historical mentality. As the saying goes, Las islas tienen eso, que aislan (the islands have that, which isolates). This feeling of desertion may have its origins early in the colonization period at the time when most settlers abandoned the island searching for gold and glory on the continent, thus leaving the island under-populated for years to come. When efforts to sell itself to the best bidder during the nineteenth century ended with Spain's two disastrous recolonization attempts (1809-1821 and 1859-1865), Haiti's notorious occupation (1822-1844), and a stack of rejection letters from world powers (even from the brotherly Gran Colombia and the US), this feeling of abandonment was firmly in place.
G. Pope Atkins and Larman C. Wilson assure us, however, that, in spite of previous desertions, at the end of the last century, the powerful gravity of the United States' growing empire inevitably drew Quisqueya closer to its interests. Atkins and Wilson acknowledge the terrible blunders done by both sides and how detrimental have they been for both nations -- particularly to the Dominican Republic. However, the good news is that the bumpy relationship between these two nations today lies on a love-hate plateau, with no more master vs. servant paradigm in which non-nation-state sectors have taken prominence. The name for this new period in history is "Transnationalism."
Yet, we should ask what is the true nature of this relationship? Despite the excitement over the 1996 elections, as with many other promising historical markers, some Dominicans nowadays still feel that their condition has not improved significantly.
Many workers today find jobs at internationally renowned resort areas and in small manufacturing colonies called "Free Zones" in which foreign companies employ thousands of Dominicans. In these "Free Zones," they produce textile products with labels that read something like: "Manufactured in Dominican Republic with US products." These labels depict the foreign and oppressive nature of these companies -- that no matter its label of non-nation-sectors, they are the chief policy interests of the US government. These companies only come to the Dominican Republic searching for cheap labor  and refuse to employ, in any considerable way, Dominican underused (natural and human) resources or support the local community and government with tangible (financial and logistic) aid. Thus, by keeping wages down and refusing to invest correspondingly, they help maintain the country at the lowest levels of the world economic chart.
The dependent triangle changed from old colonial times. Then the colonies at the periphery provided the raw materials and the center(s) of the empire supplied the manufacturing. Now, it appears, poor countries provide cheap labor, while industrial powers, as the "Northern Colossus," secure markets for their raw products as well as for a wide array of vitally important services. Moreover, the promotion of vacation resort areas as the main sources of national income (divisas) over industrial and commercial diversification, does not contribute to replacing the servile mentality that certain scholars and diplomats, sometimes unfairly, claim still exists among Dominicans.
Certainly, capitalism at the periphery has not yet developed in any country. Probably the dependencistas were correct all along: The Dominican Republic is at the periphery of the world economy (only to serve, but not to enjoy), and industrial powers like the United States will do anything to keep it this way for their own political and economic benefit.
Perhaps, however, the conspiracy is not so well orchestrated. The "Free Zones" are just one example of the multifaceted and complex relationship between the Dominican Republic and the US. Have there not been genuine interests from the US in advancing democracy, interdependency and prosperity in Quisqueya? First in 1854 and then in 1871, Charles Sumner defended Dominican welfare with an intensity rarely seen in the US Senate. He used all his political weight and rhetoric to counter Ulysses S. Grant's imperialistic impulses to annex the island. Some Dominicans today, observing Puerto Rico's economic status and tired of all the nationalistic rhetoric resulting in nothing but recurring failures to put food on their table, lament Sumner's actions. However, despite his subtle racism, the good-old abolitionist did all Dominicans a big favor. The combined bigotry prevalent within US imperialism at the time, and the business deals endorsing this infamous treaty would have made the Dominican Republic the most grotesque example of modern capitalist slavery in the area.
Another Sumner even dared to make his appearance in Dominican soil. In 1922, Sumner Welles arrived to arbitrate badly needed elections, and in 1928, he wrote two volumes of kindhearted history. Despite his racism and extremely paternalistic disposition toward Dominicans, he tried to explain the Dominican plight to North Americans. Naboth's Vineyard: The Dominican Republic, 1844-1924 is a detailed description of the effects of infightings and international interference. Until recently, the work of this stoic New Englander was the authority on nineteenth century Dominican-Haitian relations (with a subtle anti-Haitian tendency). Most historians of Dominican history have had to deal with Welles as a historian as well as a historical figure. Parallel to Atkins and Wilson's story line, Welles' demonstrated how since the mid-nineteenth century, US and Dominican histories have grown closer. Welles' labors as the most important diplomat in Franklin D. Roosevelt's State Department were instrumental in developing the "Good Neighbor" policy that transformed US imperialism and strongly affected the Spanish Caribbean. Although sometimes misjudging indigenous power struggles, as with Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, his seeming persuasion that Latin American sensibilities should surpass U.S. national interests in the region was at the heart of his diplomatic approach.
A relatively long list of writers, which includes Welles, have also left us a rich legacy of genuine interest in the dealings between the Dominican Republic and United States. The book, The Dominican Republic and the United States, brings up most of these scholars in its bibliographical essay (pp. 267-284). This essay certainly doubles the real value of the book. Beside Atkins and Wilson themselves, some writers on Dominican and US history who have influenced North American and European circles are Ian Bell, Jan Knippers Black, Juan Bosch, Bruce J. Calder, Earl R. Curry, Robert Crassweller, Harry Hoetink, Jesus de Galidez, Piero Gleijeses, Russell H. Fitzgibbon, Luis Fernandez-Martinez, Dana G. Munro, Michael J. Kryzanek, Rayford Whittingham Logan, Abraham F. Lowenthal, John Bartlow Martin, William Javier Nelson, Callan Tansill, Howard Wiarda, and the prolific Dominican Frank Moya Pons. More recent authors are Juan Jose Ayuso, Michiel Baud, Richard Collin, Lauren (Robin) Derby, Franklin J. Franco, Michael R. Hall, Catherine LeGrand Manuel Cruz Mendez, Irma Nicasio, Jose Novas, Diomedes Nunez Polanco, Jacqueline Jimenez Polanco, Eric P. Roorda, and Michele Wicker. As Atkins and Wilson exemplify, political scientists have led the academic interest in US-Dominican relationship, followed immediately by economic and social historians, and a few cultural historians. Regardless of their academic background, their works relate to each other through a passionate sense of justice and a fierce repugnance for oppression -- naturally, though, through contrasting theoretical presuppositions.
Atkins and Wilson's latest work is the zenith of a long first-class collaboration in the area of US-Dominican history. Their vast inside knowledge and accessibility to sources and personalities is what few scholars achieve, but most want. Probably because of it, this book appears to fit in the center of Dominican historiography. The authors manage to quote a variety of authors extensively, without directly pitting schools of thought against each other. Indeed, the book's theoretical structure does not fit perfectly with either the classical diffusionist-modernization school nor with dependency, much less with post-structuralism.
The book is honest about US imperialism, racism, greed, and highlights the role of North American evils. Actually, the reader might get the impression of an imperial confession in the company of a genuine effort to understand the context of US and Dominican relationsoa progressive approach! This feeling is reinforced by an attempt by the authors to include cultural elements into what is, basically, a political and diplomatic history. They include sections about identity, cultural exchange, baseball, race, and society. In their stories, the reader will find examples (albeit short and sketchy) of how Dominican people and governments have adapted to adverse circumstances, how they have manipulated powerful nations despite their size, and how they admirably resisted oppression. We certainly needed an attempt to cover exhaustively the US involvement in Dominican territory. Moreover, notwithstanding that Balaguer and Trujillo's treatments are the best by far, both authors touch on all the high points, most of the middle ones, and even some less celebrated aspects of Dominican history since the nineteenth century. And despite the heavy use of passive voice on the first two chapters, the organization of the book makes it easy reading for undergraduates.
In their efforts to bring an inclusive coverage of the US-Dominican relations, Atkins and Wilson went back to early colonial periods. If taken as a text for a class, students will learn how the island evolved to include two countries, and how Haiti's slave revolution helped determine the future of the entire island. The book also highlights the importance of the period up to General Ulises "Lilis" Heureaux, when Dominicans were trying to identify themselves against Haitians, and how international powers played an important role in shaping the country's history. Moreover, in order to understand twentieth century US involvement in the island, the book places crucial value on the events leading to the 1916 intervention. Yet, despite the importance of the nineteenth century, the authors relied mostly on secondary sources to write these chapters.
The focus of the book is clearly the twentieth century. When Trujillo, Balaguer and current politics is the subject, the reading is undeniably engaging. At this level, the authors provide solid support with primary sources for their narratives and arguments. These topics, after all, have been their research interest for years, and, likewise, have attracted much attention from the academic community.
Curiously, qualitative attention to the twentieth century may have shaped the book's main argument. Focus on the US non-interventionist policy from the 1930s, and again right after the 1965 intervention (an "oops"), may have suggested to the writers that the US has tried to do its best in controlling its tendency to introduce themselves into Dominican affairs. An apologetic bias (from the Greek "to defend" or "to explain out") that emerges from this approach is nowhere more evident than in their efforts to free. as much as possible, the US from the notorious responsibility of bringing Trujillo to power (p. 59-64). If asked to summarize the message of this book in two sentences, despite all the injustices that this entails, the answer, by necessity, will include a progressive dichotomy in US imperialism. This reviewer' summary: "The US acted imperialistically and intruded in Dominican Republic because of its perennial instability, its failure in making payments, its location within the North American perimeter of influence, and the numerous and constant international pressures (European involvement in Latin America, first and second World Wars, the Cold War, the 1990s "Haitian problem" etc.). However, the circumstances since 1966 are not imperialistic since they do not involve direct policy intervention in Dominican affairs -- and most Dominicans feel comfortable with it!" To most readers this might make plain sense, but to those with at least a small dose of Gramscian skepticism, this may sound as a new ingenious and accommodating strand of diffusionism, neo-liberalism, or modernist approach to history.
At this conjuncture, the teacher using this book as a text can add a few scrutinizing questions to help students develop a sharp sense of historical critical thinking. Where is the clearly explained relationship (causes and consequences) of years of recurring and assorted foreign interventions to Dominican internal instability, habitual tendency of loan grabbing-defaulting, and stubborn regionalisms? It is true that Atkins and Wilson do not directly excuse North American interventions? Actually, they criticize it and honestly unveil the rampant racism, avarice, and demeaning manner in some US policies and diplomats. Yet, the book's literary structure arranges historical events in a way that may produce in the reader the idea that, after all, it was the Dominicans who attracted intervention. Consequently (following the logic of this thought), if they would not have been clamoring for European protection; if they would have stayed quiet and kept a democratic government running; and most importantly, if they would have at least tried to maintain the interest payment on their foreign debt, most surely the US would never have intervened. Unfortunately, by trying to explain political behavior in a vacuum (with only a modest relation to US-Dominican identities, economic circumstances, survival tactics, cultural values, etc.), the Dominican predicament not only looks simplistic, moreover, it looks deserving! There is a lesson here that serves students for when they get the call to choose between a history that supports status quo (which promotes complacency) and a history that rocks its foundations (with the added warning against presumption).
The authors are very correct in emphasizing the closeness of both nations' histories. To a certain extent, US interventions responded to political and financial instability inside Dominican Republic, and to fears that these problems might affect US interests on the hemisphere. Thus, US concerns had a direct impact on Dominican soil and Dominican volatility determined North American reactions. Yet, since that point is already obvious, the next step must be to investigate what were the cultural reasons for the US' capricious manner in the Spanish Caribbean. We all know that hunger for economic, political, and military power have always been useful in partially explaining these actions. We also know that ideas of Manifest Destiny, manipulations of the Monroe Doctrine, and a false sense of cultural and racial superiority played a vital role in US imperialism. Furthermore, we have learned that individuals, personal ambitions, political infighting, and parochial opinions determined many US adjustments toward this island, and vice versa. Nevertheless, we are still behind in uncovering the shared and contested cultural values that at specific moments and across time transformed US policy toward Dominicans. We remain in the dark about how Dominican actions influenced North American identities (shall we dare to think of a small nation affecting the US?), and how they, in turn, predisposed US policy. From a Gramscian point of view, we should venture to ask what was the full range of reasons the US wanted Europe out of the Spanish Caribbean? What roles created political, philosophical, and religious notions in the US over Caribbean policies? And with direct relevancy to the present, are not non-nation-sectors actually arms of imperial governments? We should test the theoretical core of some diplomatic histories by asking if imperialism really means only direct intervention. Can we brush aside cultural imperialism and still produce an all-inclusive history?
More research is needed on the Dominican side. What were the cultural reasons for what appeared to be a chronic colonialist mentality among some leaders? How has their apparent sense of inferiority influenced their reactions to imperialism? In addition to the arguments of sheer greed, we should investigate what motivated corruption, infighting, and instability in Dominican politics. What are the similarities and differences between Dominican dictators? How can we give a more sophisticated explanation to grass-root support for caudillos? Is the twentieth century caudillo Joaquin Balaguer actually that similar to nineteenth century caudillo Buenaventura Baez? Up to what point was the Spanish-Cuban-Philippine-American War a watershed for Dominicans in the sense that it deprived them from alternative European powers to mitigate the growing US hegemony? How did the shifting of international hegemonies influenced political values, identity, religion, and gender-role creation? Have Dominicans had a love-hate relationship with world powers or have they astutely found ways to endure overwhelming imperialisms by giving such impressions instead? More specifically, how did the racism of US Marines shape Trujillo and other leaders' destructive bigotry, and institutionalize a new intolerance? In direct relation to Atkins and Wilson's main argument, was the erratic US non-intervention policy actually favorable to Dominicans? Probably more interesting to examine are the aspects of Dominican culture that have successfully resisted assimilation and how, on the other hand, some foreign values became indigenous. From a more global perspective, how did Dominican adaptation, manipulation, resistance, and ambivalence toward the US compare to the experiences in other countries in Latin America? And to bring the David Landes-A. Gunder Frank's debate to the fore, let us ask what answers can we find in US-Dominican history about why the south is poorer and weaker?
In the hands of a creative teacher, then, Atkins and Wilson's book is certainly a practical book for undergraduate and graduate courses in US imperialism and Dominican history. Furthermore, however, this work is an excellent launching platform for future research. The questions Atkins and Wilson answered convincingly clear the way for upcoming unexplored topics and underused methodologies.
What can Juan Luis Guerra finally tells us about how quisqueyanos have been faring in the imperial periphery, which he so eloquently describes, without resorting to victimization? Happily, desertion is not the only emotion with intense cultural and historical significance that emerges from his lyrics. In the song "El Primo" (The Cousin), for example, Guerra portrays a survivor of imperialism. Like the Dominican "tigre" in Lauren Derby's "Tigueraje," his cousin has special skills and connections. He knows Michael Jordan, is a painter, surgeon, actor, pilot, sculptor, poet, journalist, tourist and breathes under water. More interesting, still, is that he is stronger than Sylvester Stallone ("Rambo," an icon for American imperialism) and is a sociologist (he understands how his new society works). Can we say, thus, that in spite of being abandoned at the periphery, Quisqueya has found ways to resist, assimilate, accommodate and excel within US imperialism? Probably that is why they call it la tierra de los reyes (the land of the kings). With a field rich in cultural and political complexities relating to a wide range of scholarly interests, I wonder how long will it take teachers and scholars to mine here and extract what has been "missing, forgotten, avoided or repressed." 
. Some scholars argue that merengue and bachata lyrics reveal the core of Dominican social concerns. Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Bachata: a Social History of a Dominican Popular Music (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995) & Paul Austerlitz, Merengue,(Temple University Press, 1997).
. "Capitalist development in Latin America has not improved the living conditions of the vast majority of the continent's population. On the contrary, only select groups have prospered, while nearly half live in poverty." Liz. Dore, John Weeks, "The changing faces of imperialism," NACLA Report on the Americas, v. 30 (Sept./Oct. 1996), 10-13.
. Helen Icken Safa, "Where the big fish eat the little fish: women's work in the free-trade zones," NACLA Report on the Americas, v. 30 (Mar./Apr. 1997) 31-6.
. Thorsten Sagawe, "Industrial free zones in the Dominican Republic: national vs. local impact," Journal of Geography, v. 95 (Sept./Oct. '96) 203-10; George M. Anderson, "Darkness in the Dominican Republic," America, v. 173 (Nov. 18 '95) 10-11.
. A recent sympathetic yet candid biography for Sumner Wells is from his son Benjamin Welles, Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).
. Luis Fernandez-Matinez argues that the periodization of Dominican and Spanish Caribbean history since mid-nineteenth century follows a path adjacent to US historical developments. Luis Fernandez-Matinez, Torn Between Empires (Athen: University of Georgia Press, 1994). For a debate on approaches to comparative histories, see the special edition of History and Theory, v. 38 (Feb. '99), and particularly Chris Lorenz article "Comparative historiography: problems and perspectives," 25-39.
. It is interesting to note that, according to Otoniel Cabrera, the Monroe Doctrine was not under real threat by European powers at the time the US took over Dominican customs. Otoniel Cabrera, _Doctrina Monroe, Deuda Externa e Intervencion: El Caso de la Republica Dominicana, 1905-1916), (Disertacion Doctoral en Historia, Universidad de Valladolid, Espana, 1999).
. For example, G. Pope Atkins and Larman C. Wilson, The United States and the Trujillo Regime (New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press [1971, c1972]).
. Donald Pease demonstrates how imperialism became an American way of life. He considers how the discourse of imperialism constructed linkages between travel abroad and ethnic and racial hierarchies in America. Donald E. Pease, "Imperial Discourse," Diplomatic History, v. 22 # 4 (Fall 1998), 605-15
. William Earl Weeks convincingly argues that the adoption of the US Constitution was a prerequisite for the development of a durable American nationalism and imperialism by establishing a strong central government. He looks at how the federal government supported American global commercial expansion and American ideologies of international law and trade. He then studies the mythological discourse of patriotic nationalism and empire that assumes America's survival and success to be synonymous with human progress. Putting American nationalism adjacent to American imperialism, he suggests, provides a structure capable of elucidating the nation's extraordinary rise in the 19th century to global hegemony in the 20th. William Earl Weeks, "American nationalism, American imperialism: an interpretation of United States political economy, 1789-1861," Journal of the Early Republic, v. 14 (Winter, 1994), 485-95.
. Eric Paul Roorda and (Robin) Lauren Derby offer fascinating examples of new methodologies and topics for research in Dominican-US history in Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations_, eds. Joseph M. Gilbert, Catherine C. Legrand and Ricardo D. Salvatore (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1998).
. "The tigre is a charmer who talk/s his way into places he doesn't belong through "verbosity, charlatanism [and] ... a false lyricism." The tigre is not given prestige, he steals it. The tigre can operate outside the rules of society, because he seeks only the respect and approval of his barrio, of la gente, the people." Lauren Derby, "Tigueraje: Race, Class and Self-Fashioning in the Dominican Republic." Paper presented at the "Latin American History Workshop," University of Chicago, May 4, 1999.
. Roman de la Campa, Latin Americanism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), viii.
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Dennis R. Hidalgo. Review of Atkins, G. Pope; Wilson, Larman C., The Dominican Republic and the United States: From Imperialism to Transnationalism.
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