The Dictator Next Door

The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945

The Dictator Next Door

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 17 b&w photographs Published: October 1998

Caribbean Studies, History > Latin American History, Politics > Political Science

The question of how U.S. foreign policy should manage relations with autocratic governments, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America, has always been difficult and complex. In The Dictator Next Door Eric Paul Roorda focuses on the relations between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic following Rafael Trujillo’s seizure of power in 1930. Examining the transition from the noninterventionist policies of the Hoover administration to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, Roorda blends diplomatic history with analyses of domestic politics in both countries not only to explore the political limits of American hegemony but to provide an in-depth view of a crucial period in U.S. foreign relations.
Although Trujillo’s dictatorship was enabled by prior U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic, the brutality of his regime and the reliance on violence and vanity to sustain his rule was an untenable offense to many in the U.S. diplomatic community, as well as to certain legislators, journalists, and bankers. Many U.S. military officers and congressmen, however—impressed by the civil order and extensive infrastructure the dictator established—comprised an increasingly powerful Dominican lobby. What emerges is a picture of Trujillo at the center of a crowded stage of international actors and a U.S. government that, despite events such as Trujillo’s 1937 massacre of 12,000 Haitians, was determined to foster alliances with any government that would oppose its enemies as the world moved toward war.
Using previously untapped records, privately held papers, and unpublished photographs, Roorda demonstrates how caution, confusion, and conflicting goals marked U.S. relations with Trujillo and set the tone for the ambivalent Cold War relations that prevailed until Trujillo’s assassination in 1961. The Dictator Next Door will interest Latin Americanists, historians, political scientists, and specialists in international relations and diplomacy.


The Dictator Next Door . . . is a well-told story of relations between the United States and the Dominican Republic during the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps the most important contribution of Roorda’s work is his convincing depiction of the buildup of Rafael Trujillo’s empire using the good neighbor policy to his advantage.” — Daniela Spenser, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] definitive account of United States policies toward the Dominican Republic during the first half of Rafael Trujillo’s odious regime. . . . [An] excellent study.” — Stephen G. Rabe, Journal of American History

“For an excellent view of the Good Neighbor Policy in action and the role of the military in basic foreign relations, this book is required reading.” — Robert Freeman Smith, Military History

“Roorda brings new details to light. . . . [He has] a nuanced sense of the tension in US policy between a commitment to nonintervention (on political, economic and moral grounds) and a belief that dictators should be held accountable to moral standards and democratic government encouraged.” — Steven Schwartzberg, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Roorda strips away the veneer of rhetoric and demonstrates what actually occurred in inter-American relations during the Roosevelt administration: for that, he should be commended.” — Irwin F. Gellman, International History Review

“Roorda’s book is a substantial contribution not only to our understanding of the dynamics of U.S.-Latin American relations during the Good Neighbor era but to an emerging international history that documents the capacity of small states on the peripheries of world power to influence the policies of superpowers at the center of the international system.” — Michael Grow, American Historical Review

"An essential history of American presidents Herbert Hoover and FDR's failed 'Good Neighbor Policy' in Latin America detailing how Trujillo manged to maintain support in Washington by siding against first the Fascists and later the Communists, despite the blatant horrors of his regime." — Rough Guide to the Dominican Republic

The Dictator Next Door is a powerfully argued, full-blown diplomatic history that sheds much useful light on a crucial period of United States foreign relations. There are many fine studies of the Good Neighbor Policy, but none comes close to Roorda’s densely textured knowledge of U.S.-Dominican relations.” — Lars Schoultz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“An excellent piece of research on a topic that is both important and neglected. Roorda’s determination to look at this bilateral relationship as the product of a multiplicity of actors is indeed unique.” — Bruce Calder, University of Illinois at Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Paul Roorda is Assistant Professor of History at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Co-winner, Stuart L. Bernath Award (presented by Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations)

Winner, 1998 Herbert Hoover Award

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2123-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2234-4
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