Fresh Look Reviews
Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s newly elected president, arrives in office on the coattails of President Álvaro Uribe’s 70 percent approval ratings. As president, Santos is expected to continue much of Uribe’s agenda including his signature “Democratic Security” policy.
While the policy is popular, it remains a source of sharp division. Launched in 2003, it focused on military and public security responses to Colombia’s drug-funded conflict involving leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the government. Initiatives included a near doubling of the security forces’ size, their deployment in much greater numbers among the general population, the use of paid citizen informants, and negotiations to secure the demobilization of pro-government paramilitary bands. Human rights and civil liberties advocates have denounced the policy as a dangerous escalation of executive and military power, arguing that it failed to address—and in fact may have strengthened—the power of paramilitary and organized crime networks beyond the principal cities.
Política de seguridad democrática (Democratic Security Policy) is a stimulating contribution to the debate, which is likely to continue well past the June 2010 election. It is co-authored by two prominent Colombian columnists and analysts: Alfredo Rangel, an Uribe backer who heads the Bogotá-based Fundación Seguridad y Democracia, and Pedro Medellín, a university professor and much-cited critic of President Uribe’s policies. The book provides an excellent point-counterpoint on the policy’s successes and failures. It is the latest in the Cara & Sello (Heads and Tails) series published by Editorial Norma and the respected Colombian news magazine Semana.
Social scientists are often more inclined to explain past events than to predict future economic and political developments. That approach makes their scholarly production more rigorous, their claims and explanations more parsimonious and their theoretical and methodological constructions more solid. Unfortunately, it is also unlikely to interest those concerned with current developments and inclined to look ahead.
In Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization, Jorge Heine, professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Andrew Cooper, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, step beyond the traditional backward-looking approach of social sciences to analyze the future of globalization in Latin America. In a sophisticated exercise of educated guessing, the editors, both fellows at Canada’s Centre for International Governance Innovation, and their collaborators ponder questions of democratic consolidation, institutional strength, trade and economic integration, and international relations as they affect Latin America.
From 1930 to 1961, Rafael Trujillo presided over one of Latin America’s most brutal dictatorships. Countless books and articles have dissected the political nature of his regime, but none has fully examined the way Trujillo managed to control Dominicans’ everyday lives. Lauren Derby’s book, The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo, is a long-awaited attempt to fill that gap.
Derby, associate professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, offers an innovative portrayal of the culture, in many ways created by Trujillo himself, that allowed him to consolidate such absolute power in the Dominican Republic. She does this by distancing herself from attempts that focus on biographical singularities to analyze Latin American dictatorships. Instead, Derby explains Trujillo’s absolute control by looking at cultural instruments, such as music, art, religion, and poetry, that he used to create political consensus and build symbolic legitimacy. She employs a post-modern perspective that attempts to go beyond traditional historians’ interpretations of the Trujillo regime as one based solely on brute military force.
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