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Reviewed by:
  • Empire and Dissent: The United States and Latin America
  • Mark Jaede
Empire and Dissent: The United States and Latin America. Edited by Fred Rosen . Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008. 288 pp. $84.95 (cloth); $23.95 (paper).

Empire and Dissent is a collection of essays that grew out of a pair of workshops on hegemony and empire in the Americas. The nine essays that make up the volume are expanded and revised versions of presentations originally given in Paris in 2004 and Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 2005. These first four examine broad historical themes in British and U.S. imperialism, while the final five discuss twentieth- and twenty-first-century resistance in Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela, respectively. Rosen's introduction provides an overview and seeks to tie together the disparate arguments of the nine essays.

Part 1 of the book opens with an essay by Alan Knight. Knight offers a broad sketch of U.S. imperialism in the Americas, along with an analytical framework of empires generally. He categorizes empires by modality (formal and informal), functions (engineering and defense), mechanisms (political, economic, and cultural), and goals (widely variable). He then applies these categories as he traces U.S. policy in the hemisphere from the invasion of Mexico through the close of the Cold War.

Gregory Evans Dowd follows with an examination of the status of indigenous North Americans under the British Empire and the "Empire of Liberty." He notes the fictional nature of an empire that claims to include broad territories whose inhabitants do not acknowledge the authority of the imperium. He also reveals how race determined who [End Page 612] could be a subject of the British Empire. When Britain acquired New France in 1763, Frenchmen in North America were denominated "new subjects." Indians, however, were never subjects, but remained outsiders on British soil, even when they signed treaties recognizing the authority of the crown.

The final historical essays are by John Richard Oldfield and Carlos Marichal. Oldfield discusses the role of slavery and especially the abolition of the slave trade within the British Atlantic world. He finds that while slavery and the slave trade served to knit the British Empire together until the eighteenth century, the emerging consensus against the trade provided a moral basis to unify and justify the empire after abolition. Marichal's essay leaps forward to the late twentieth century.

He examines the ways that the United States used debt and debt negotiations to influence Mexico and Argentina between 1945 and 2005. He draws a strong distinction between the two debtor countries. Whereas Mexican elites collaborated with the United States to restructure debts in a way that served the wealthy on both sides of the Rio Grande, Argentina's leaders managed to use default as a tool to force creditors to restructure debts on terms more favorable to Argentina as a whole.

The four historical essays constitute an interesting yet rather eclectic overview of empire in the Americas. Readers—especially student readers—may find it bewildering to move among two essays (Knight and Marichal) that examine power dynamics between the United States and Latin America and two (Dowd and Oldfield) that focus on Britain and say nothing at all about Latin America.

The five essays in part 2 partake more of political science than of history, though this reviewer does not claim to know where the boundary between the two disciplines lies. Each of the essays looks at a single Latin American country and the strategies its government or people have used to resist the domination of the United States. The essays consider the interrelationships between resistance "from above" (by states) and resistance "from below" (by popular movements).

Neil Harvey discusses the Zapatista movement in Mexico as both an indigenous rights and an anti-imperialist movement. He places it in the contexts of race and class relations, NAFTA, and Mexican electoral politics. He traces its complicated relationship with the Mexican political left and its refusal to become a political party itself. Harvey also offers the intriguing observation that resistance cannot exist outside of empire, but lies within it, under constant scrutiny. He also questions the existence of a unified "people...