New and Noteworthy: The Prophet and the Power; The Stroessner Regime; and Cycles of Conflict, Centuries of Change

November 26, 2007

The Prophet and the Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community and Haiti, by Alex Dupuy, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, 239 pages, $29.95, paperback

This well-told account of the rise and fall of Jean-Bertrand Aristide is set in two broader contexts: the profit-driven creation of a new transnational order (hence the play on the words profit and prophet in the book’s title), and the violent and cynical exercise of political power in Haiti over the past half-century.

First, Dupuy argues that neoliberal globalization, “rather than eliminating the historical division of the world into core, semi-peripheral and peripheral states . . . exacerbates this division.” He argues that the internal frustrations generated by this exacerbation of inequality, a process that deliberately sets limits to the possibilities of social transformation in very poor, peripheral countries like Haiti, played no small part in stalling and reversing Aristide’s original transformative project.

After interpreting the brutal legacy of the Duvalier dictatorships, Dupuy turns to the Aristide presidency, telling his tragic tale in a series of chapters. Dupuy’s main argument is that Aristide, over the course of his two presidencies, was transformed from a radical priest, willing to fight the good fight alongside his flock, into a standard Haitian politician, willing to make deals with all sorts of dubious allies in order to acquire and maintain political power for himself and his Lavalas movement. As with all tragic characters, Aristide’s rise and fall was of his own doing, but abetted by circumstances far beyond his control.

The Stroessner Regime and Indigenous Resistance in Paraguay, by René D. Harder Horst, The University Press of Florida, 2007, 225 pages, $59.95, hardcover

Horst assesses the “dialectical relationship” between the Paraguayan state (with a particular focus on the Stroessner dictatorship of 1954–89) and the indigenous population of modern Paraguay. Paradoxically, as indigenous groups became less self-sufficient under Stroessner, they turned to participation in broader markets and to increasingly sophisticated modes of political resistance. In particular, Horst argues, they “challenged the regime’s economic policies with their own vision of independent, subsistence-based production,” and they—with some success—­demanded “greater respect for ethnic plurality and the natural resources that made their lifestyles viable.”

In his dealings with Paraguay’s indigenous population, Stroessner walked in the very different footsteps of two former dictators, the first populist, the second liberal. The first, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Paraguay’s “Supreme Dictator” between 1816 and 1840, maintained “the special status of the indigenous people,” strengthening their landholdings and ties to the state. In contrast, Francia’s successor, General Carlos Antonio López, “declared all people in the 21 native pueblos to be citizens of the republic,” and in doing so he “divested pueblos of their special status; seized all their cattle, goods and properties; and subjected the native inhabitants to military service and taxes,” payable in kind. This kind of liberalism is, of course, recognizable today.

Cycles of Conflict, Centuries of Change: Crisis, Reform and Revolution in Mexico, edited by Elisa Servín, Leticia Reina, and John Tutino, Duke University Press, 2007, 406 pages, $24.95, paperback

For the past three turns of the century, Mexico has experienced economic growth combined with “social dislocation and calls for political change.” Resulting radical change took the form of the independence movement of 1810 and the popular revolution of 1910. None of the authors in this timely essay collection predicts a similar upheaval for 2010, but the broad historical similarities are striking.

Historian Alan Knight, in one of the book’s most provocative chapters, gives us a credible description of the tail end of the dictatorial rule of Porfirio Díaz in 1900, and the tail end of PRI hegemony in 2000. It’s the same description: “a period of prolonged political stability, in which a distinctive political regime, born amid civil war and conflict, managed to consolidate itself; initially popular . . . the regime tended to grow more elitist with time, parvenu generals were replaced by civilians and technocrats; they, in turn, encouraged foreign investment and closer integration into world ­markets. . . . ”­

Whatever the regime’s success, Knight argues, its economic model “tended to generate greater inequality,” while “a few radical groups launched quixotic uprisings [and] a more vigorous electoral opposition emerged,” leading, in 1910, to armed revolution. Only the punch line is missing: “in 2010 . . . ”


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