- New Perspectives in Latin American-US Relations
Since the end of the international Cold War, scholarship on U.S.-Latin American relations has not just flourished but developed in myriad ways. While Stephen Rabe notes how the literature on inter-American relations has always been multifaceted and multiarchival, the bureaucracy of the U.S. government's declassification process and the limitations in accessing sensitive documents blocked off by those linked to military regimes hindered more thorough investigations despite historians' best efforts.1 Even when identifying important trends surrounding the construction and implementation of U.S. policy toward Latin America, Mark Gilderhus identified artificial barriers related to this dilemma.2 Fortuitously, the Cold War's official end and the gradual thaw of those regimes, in spite of the seemingly never-ending strained relations with Cuba, quickly offered small caveats. Diplomatic historians presented those once denoted as "puppets" or passive victims of the U.S. government as more adept manipulators of domestic sentiments and international politics.3 Returning to familiar corporate entities and hemispheric encounters, historians and anthropologists delved deeper into the nuances of U.S. imperialism and Latin American postcolonialism thanks to postmodernism and the cultural turn.4 Of course, there lingered questions regarding Latin America's place within Cold War studies and the post-Cold War era.5 However, the historiographical impetus proceeded forward, culminating in even more revelations about the violence and insurgency that defined Latin America for the past years, examinations into the role and impact of U.S.-based resources and policies, and debates over what some have termed Latin America's own Cold War.6 The three books reviewed here all speak to this enduring energy in the scholarship on U.S.-Latin American relations.
James W. Martin's Banana Cowboys centers upon the United Fruit Company (UFCO), a popular lens through which diplomatic historians, anthropologists, and more have investigated the extension of U.S. influence [End Page 453] and culture into Latin America.7 Whereas most of the literature has focused upon how the transnational entity reshaped politics and labor abroad, Martin centers his perspective on how the company dealt with the white laborers it transplanted from the United States into its colonial enclaves abroad. The UFCO saw the world through a gendered construction of white supremacy that expected its Anglo-Saxon managers to dominate both non-white laborers and a metaphorical "banana frontier" of wilderness and indigenous peoples (128). Initially, management believed exporting this vision of race relations to its territories in Latin America would keep its white and non-white workers separated from one another, an international division of labor complementing other Gilded Age business practices of scientific management, vertical integration, and more. However, this racist masculinity turned out to be more fragile than expected as tropical diseases, a harsh terrain, and overbearing managers weakened those white laborers, resulting in drastically low retention and a weakened labor force.
In contrast to studies inadvertently portraying the UFCO as a single or monolithic extension of U.S. culture and empire, Martin finds that laborers complained about those policies and working conditions, epitomized in labor strikes in 1909 and 1910. As a result, officials created a new form of corporate welfarism in banana zones designed to attract and appease white workers. Its personnel blended science and medicine by providing residential housing, social facilities, and improved infrastructure. At the heart of these programs remained that racial hierarchy, with expatriates enduring and conquering the tropical environment while relying on black servants, non-white workers, and leisurely sports to further unite its white laborers. Even as the UFCO launched its notable scientific and medical projects into Latin America, these too remained heavily racialized and designed to discipline and condition laborers with a moral hygiene...