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The question of how U.S. foreign policy should manage relations with autocratic governments, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America, has always been difficult and complex. In The Dictator Next Door Eric Paul Roorda focuses on the relations between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic following Rafael Trujillo’s seizure of power in 1930. Examining the transition from the noninterventionist policies of the Hoover administration to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, Roorda blends diplomatic history with analyses of domestic politics in both countries not only to explore the political limits of American hegemony but to provide an in-depth view of a crucial period in U.S. foreign relations.
Although Trujillo’s dictatorship was enabled by prior U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic, the brutality of his regime and the reliance on violence and vanity to sustain his rule was an untenable offense to many in the U.S. diplomatic community, as well as to certain legislators, journalists, and bankers. Many U.S. military officers and congressmen, however—impressed by the civil order and extensive infrastructure the dictator established—comprised an increasingly powerful Dominican lobby. What emerges is a picture of Trujillo at the center of a crowded stage of international actors and a U.S. government that, despite events such as Trujillo’s 1937 massacre of 12,000 Haitians, was determined to foster alliances with any government that would oppose its enemies as the world moved toward war.
Using previously untapped records, privately held papers, and unpublished photographs, Roorda demonstrates how caution, confusion, and conflicting goals marked U.S. relations with Trujillo and set the tone for the ambivalent Cold War relations that prevailed until Trujillo’s assassination in 1961. The Dictator Next Door will interest Latin Americanists, historians, political scientists, and specialists in international relations and diplomacy.
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In the 1930s, under the administrations of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, the United States government adopted a stance toward countries in the Western hemisphere that it called, optimistically, the "Good Neighbor policy." Meant to encourage the principle of self-determination and to cultivate respect for national sovereignty in a time of European imperial expansion, the policy was immediately put to the test by the rise of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who held onto power through a stunning campaign of terror against his citizens and those of neighboring Haiti. While Trujillo massacred his enemies real and imagined, the American government watched patiently--a failure to intervene that, writes historian Eric Paul Roorda, "demonstrated to a generation of Latin American dictators that they were free to run their countries however they wished, so long as they maintained common enemies with the United States: first the fascists, then the communists."
Trujillo made sure to keep favor in Washington by employing a powerful lobby made up of retired American military officers and industrialists. The strategy worked for decades, until Trujillo's excesses became too much to excuse. Then, Roorda writes, presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy gave aid to Trujillo's enemies, who eventually succeeded in assassinating the dictator in 1961. This well-stated, cautionary tale of foreign policy gone awry has implications for our time, and it makes for fascinating reading. --Gregory McNameeFrom the Back Cover:
"An excellent piece of research on a topic that is both important and neglected. Roorda's determination to look at this bilateral relationship as the product of a multiplicity of actors is indeed unique."--Bruce Calder, University of Illinois at Chicago
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