The Dictator’s Seduction


The Dictator’s Seduction:
Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo
Lauren Derby
2009, Duke University Press
411 pages

THE CULT of personality that at times throughout history has become totally dominant in some societies can speak as much about the cultural and ideological infrastructure created or exploited by a dominant dictator as about his own personal traits, exaggerated and fictive as they may be. As Lauren Derby points out in this excellent examination of political culture in the Dominican Republic during the long and brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo from 1930-61, the leader’s superhuman aura was the product of a complex series of negotiations and symbolic exchanges between leaders, followers and brokers who played a key role in concealing as well as revealing Trujillo’s trickery. In particular, the Dominican Party by which the dictator extended his persona into civil society was a crucial tool in establishing hyperbole and an image that often defied reality. Trujillo, suggests Derby, was as much a fetishistic product of the state as its creator. The Dominican dictator established what was probably the most brutally repressive regime in Latin American history, characterised as much by the arbitrary savagery and carnage of Trujillo and his cohorts themselves as by his extreme personal corruption and moral decadence. Yet if the currency in which the transactions over his public image were conducted was absolute fear, there was also a great deal of pragmatic compliance at a popular level deriving from his skilful use of vernacular lore, not least concerning machismo. These uncomfortable facts test our understanding of such concepts as legitimacy and consent. The author argues that because the perniciousness of the regime resided in its vernacular forms of domination, poor – and poorly educated – political subjects found it well nigh impossible to step outside the tentacles of state power. This is a fascinating book that makes a valuable contribution to a more nuanced understanding of one of the darkest and bloodiest periods in Latin American history. – GO’T

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