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Reviewed by:
  • The Dominican People: A Documentary History
  • Aviva Chomsky
The Dominican People: A Documentary History. Edited by Ernesto Sagas and Orlando Inoa . Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2003. Photographs. Illustrations. xiii, 278 pp. Cloth, $44.95. Paper, $24.95.

Ernesto Sagas and Orlando Inoa have compiled a concise and satisfying anthology of documents on Dominican history. To the extent to which a collection of documents can have an argument, this one does: that while authoritarian and undemocratic politics are deeply ingrained in Dominican culture, democratic institutions have been slowly but surely taking root over the past several decades. Thus, the overwhelming majority of the documents are political in nature and trace the origins and character of this authoritarian political culture. Several elements stand out in the history these documents exemplify: Spanish and French colonialism, the [End Page 518] Dominican Republic's uneasy relationship with its neighbor Haiti, and U.S. influence form the scaffolding around which Dominican history unfolds. The editors use public speeches and proclamations, treaties, and laws to chronicle the country's shifting relationships with these different external actors and the ways that its political leaders responded, both internally and externally. Many of the documents also suggest the limited economic alternatives open to the country, although economic issues receive more attention in the pre-twentieth-century sections. Still, the links between foreign economic dependence and political authoritarianism are evident. Dominican elites—the political class—could only maintain their status through collaboration and manipulation; most of the population remained alienated from the political system.

There are many areas of Dominican history that get short shrift, however. Although the introduction announces the editors' intent to include the history of ordinary Dominicans alongside documentation of "high politics," the latter comprise the bulk of the selections. The lives of those outside the formal political sphere—that is, the majority of the Dominican population—remain elusive. The editors explicitly acknowledge their decision to avoid any discussion of Dominican culture in the volume. This decision gives the collection a curiously unidimensional quality and seems to preclude the use of these documents to develop a more in-depth or multilayered analysis of the country's history in the classroom. History, in this collection, is a series of political events rather than a study of people and society.

Even in the realm of traditional politics, some key issues remain unaddressed and key questions unanswered. Why did Trujillo suddenly adopt viciously anti-Haitian ideologies and policies in the late 1930 s? Why did the United States accept the loss of control over the sugar industry under Trujillo? Why did the population seemingly acquiesce to the destruction of a populist, social democratic alternative in the 1960 s? How violent was the repression of the Left after 1965 ? Why is there no contemporary Dominican movement to uncover the history of this repression or to punish the guilty, as has emerged in other Latin American countries? How and why did political alignments shift in the 1990 s so that Juan Bosch's leftist PLD and former Trujilloist Joaquín Balaguer joined forces in the 1996 elections? The contemporary Dominican diaspora is also entirely absent from the volume.

The lack of an index—and the fact that the table of contents does not list the authors of the different documents—makes the collection somewhat difficult to navigate, especially since many readers will want to use the anthology as a reference, rather than reading it cover to cover. However, within the parameters that the editors have set for the volume, it makes a useful and comprehensive contribution. In particular, the editors' introductions to each document do a solid and convincing job of providing the necessary background and context so that the anthology does provide a coherent narrative, in documents, of Dominican political history.

Aviva Chomsky
Salem State College


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pp. 518-519
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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