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An eye-opening examination of Latin America's role as proving ground for U.S. imperial strategies and tactics
In recent years, one book after another has sought to take the measure of the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy. In their search for precedents, they invoke the Roman and British empires as well as postwar reconstructions of Germany and Japan. Yet they consistently ignore the one place where the United States had its most formative imperial experience: Latin America.
A brilliant excavation of a long-obscured history, Empire's Workshop is the first book to show how Latin America has functioned as a laboratory for American extraterritorial rule. Historian Greg Grandin follows the United States' imperial operations, from Thomas Jefferson's aspirations for an "empire of liberty" in Cuba and Spanish Florida, to Ronald Reagan's support for brutally oppressive but U.S.-friendly regimes in Central America. He traces the origins of Bush's policies to Latin America, where many of the administration's leading lights—John Negroponte, Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich—first embraced the deployment of military power to advance free-market economics and first enlisted the evangelical movement in support of their ventures.
With much of Latin America now in open rebellion against U.S. domination, Grandin concludes with a vital question: If Washington has failed to bring prosperity and democracy to Latin America—its own backyard "workshop"—what are the chances it will do so for the world?
America's post-9/11 policy of idealistic military adventurism has a long history, argues this incisive study. NYU historian Grandin (The Blood of Guatemala) sketches the vexed course of U.S. relations with Latin America, but focuses on the Reagan administration's involvement in Central America during the 1980s, when it backed the Salvadoran government in a brutal civil war against left-wing insurgents and the Nicaraguan Contras against the Sandinista regime. Then as now, Grandin contends, Washington justified a militarist stance by citing a threat to America (Communists advancing on the Rio Grande) and championing democracy and human rights. America did not send troops but did sponsor native death squads in El Salvador, and the author notes recent press reports that the U.S. military is sponsoring similar death squads in Iraq. Grandin's conception of American imperialism covering everything from outright invasion to corporate investment and Fed interest-rate hikes is too broad, and he overstates the importance of Central America in the making of the American New Right. But this timely book offers an analysis of the ideological foundations of today's foreign policy consensus and a cautionary tale about its dark legacy.