The Dictator′s Seduction

Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo

The Dictator′s Seduction

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 36 illustrations Published: July 2009

Author: Lauren H. Derby

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Caribbean Studies, Latin American Studies

The dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, was one of the longest and bloodiest in Latin American history. The Dictator’s Seduction is a cultural history of the Trujillo regime as it was experienced in the capital city of Santo Domingo. Focusing on everyday forms of state domination, Lauren Derby describes how the regime infiltrated civil society by fashioning a “vernacular politics” based on popular idioms of masculinity and fantasies of race and class mobility. Derby argues that the most pernicious aspect of the dictatorship was how it appropriated quotidian practices such as gossip and gift exchange, leaving almost no place for Dominicans to hide or resist.

Drawing on previously untapped documents in the Trujillo National Archives and interviews with Dominicans who recall life under the dictator, Derby emphasizes the role that public ritual played in Trujillo’s exercise of power. His regime included the people in affairs of state on a massive scale as never before. Derby pays particular attention to how events and projects were received by the public as she analyzes parades and rallies, the rebuilding of Santo Domingo following a major hurricane, and the staging of a year-long celebration marking the twenty-fifth year of Trujillo’s regime. She looks at representations of Trujillo, exploring how claims that he embodied the popular barrio antihero the tíguere (tiger) stoked a fantasy of upward mobility and how a rumor that he had a personal guardian angel suggested he was uniquely protected from his enemies. The Dictator’s Seduction sheds new light on the cultural contrivances of autocratic power.


The Dictator’s Seduction contains an absorbing cultural history . . . and a thought-provoking, entirely comparatively formulated investigation of authoritarianism and the politics of ceremony, ritual and symbolism. . . . The Dictator’s Seduction is a long-awaited book that delivers on its promises. It is essential reading for scholars of contemporary repressive regimes and the politics of symbolism, ritual and masculinity. Vividly and clearly written, it will be used in courses as well as broadly debated.” — Christian Krohn-Hansen, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[T]his is an ambitious historical ethnography of the state by an accomplished cultural historian cum anthropologist that opens new paths to studying dictatorships and other political regimes. It is notable for the author’s extraordinary grasp of social theory and comparative cases from the Caribbean, Latin America, and elsewhere, which she uses to make sense of this particular regime in its social and cultural context. . . . Not least important, it is engagingly written.” — Catherine C. Legrand, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Derby has written a provocative book that will certainly find many readers. In addition to the insights it gives in recent Dominican history, it can also be read as a plea for a new kind of cultural studies. . . . [H]er book provides us with a very original, adventurous and highly readable analysis of a crucial period in Dominican and, we may add, Latin American history.“ — Michiel Baud, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“In The Dictator’s Seduction, written, and in particular, oral sources are brilliantly and creatively interrogated and the final product is a very innovative, creative and compelling study of the Trujillato and of populism and its politics and practices in general.” — Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

“Lauren Derby’s monograph makes a significant contribution to Dominican historiography and scholarship on populism, Latin American and Caribbean dictatorship, and gender and sexuality. . . . [T]he text offers much needed assessment of popular culture in the Dominican Republic during and after the Trujillo regime.” — Lauren Hammond, Not Even Past

“There is no doubt that this book provides various insights into a crucial period of Dominican historiography that had reverberations across the Caribbean and Latin America. It pushes scholars toward new forms of comparative research and incites questions about the role of populations within hegemonic structures of power. In the end, one is forced to ask whether the theater of the state has yet to be dismantled.” — Ryan Mann-Hamilton, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

The Dictator’s Seduction is an outstanding and original book that is surprising in its originality and depth and displays a clear command of this period in Dominican history. Experts and beginning students of Dominican affairs will find this book a worthy read.” — Frank Moya Pons, Americas Quarterly

“Derby’s cultural history of the Era of Trujillo is a valuable contribution to the study of the regime. Her research, which is enhanced by her use of anthropological tools, should serve as a guide to historians as they reevaluate other twentieth-century Latin American dictatorships. An engaging and well-written study, The Dictator’s Seduction will benefit scholars and students of Dominican history.” — Michael R. Hall, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Lauren Derby has written a fascinating cultural history of the brutal, three-decade-long Trujillo regime, illustrating the complex and complicit relationship between the dictator and the Dominican pueblo.” — Allen Wells, The Americas

“Lauren Derby’s book changes our understanding of Rafael Trujillo’s infamous dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. . . . This is a creative, original, and ambitious book. It is full of insights and wonderful ideas. . . . Derby turns received historical interpretations upside down. She does not shy away from controversy; indeed, she seems to seek it. In my view that is what it takes to be a very good historian.” — Elizabeth Dore, American Historical Review

“What is fascinating about Derby’s study is her ability to pull from a variety of primary sources to support her methodology and topics addressed throughout text. Her study draws on several important and untapped archival documents from international and domestic repositories in addition to oral histories that reveal the voices of the popular masses.” — Christina Violeta Jones, The Latin Americanist

“Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Dictator’s Seduction is essential reading for scholars of repressive regimes and the machinery of violence that keeps dictators in power. Rafael Trujillo insinuated himself into his citizens’ public and private lives. Lauren Derby connects Trujillo’s backstage political machinations and private obsessions with his public image and spectacles.” — Denise Brennan, author of What’s Love Got to Do with It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic

“Lauren Derby turns much of the conventional wisdom about Rafael Trujillo on its head, and she backs up her revision with powerful archival evidence. This fascinating book will also be regarded as a masterwork of comparative research on authoritarianism and the politics of innuendo, spectacle, and symbolism.” — Eric Paul Roorda, author of The Dictator Next Door

“The character of dictatorship—with its paradoxical reliance on coercive excess and pandering to the demos—has fascinated generations of Latin America’s most exciting fiction writers, from Miguel Ángel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier to Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dictator’s Seduction is an historian’s counterpart to this literature. Lauren Derby develops the ideas of these writers, takes further insights from anthropologists who have worked on state magic, and produces a methodologically innovative and entirely fresh history of the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo. This is one of the most exciting works in contemporary Latin American political history.” — Claudio Lomnitz, author of Death and the Idea of Mexico


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lauren Derby is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. Populism as Vernacular Practice 1

1. The Dominican Belle Époque, 1922 25

2. San Zenón and the Making of Cuidad Trujillo 66

3. The Master of Ceremonies 109

4. Compatriotas! El Jefe Calls 135

5. Clothes Make the Man 173

6. Trujillo's Two Bodies 204

7. Papá Liborio and the Morality of Rule 227

Conclusion. Charisma and the Gift of Recognition 257

Notes 267

Bibliography 353

Index 393
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Co-winner, 2010 Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Award (presented by the Caribbean Studies Association)

Honorable Mention, 2010 Bryce Wood Book Award

Winner, Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Council on Latin American History, American Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4482-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4486-5
Publicity material