Book Review: Latin American Dictators of the 20th Century: The Lives and Regimes of 15 Rulers


by Javier A. Galvan

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012. Pp. viii, 210. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 078646691X

A look at some 20th Century Latin American strongmen.

Rather unfortunately, at one time or another since independence, every Latin American nation has seen rule by a strongman.  In this work Prof. Galvan (Santa Ana College) gives us profiles of a handful of those who at various times ruled fourteen different countries, from Porfirio Diaz in Mexico (1876-1911), on through Manuel Noriega in Panama (1983-1989).  Galvan’s total number of dictators is actually 15 because includes two “dynasties,” the Somozas who gave Nicaragua three “presidents” and Haiti’s two Duvaliers. 

Each strongman is fitted into his times, with personal background, ascent to power, pattern of rule, relationship with the United States, and overthrow.  There are several oddities in Galvan’s treatment.  Within the rather vague meaning of the terms “left” and “right” in Latin America, almost the dictators are rightist, with neither Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, or any of the handful of other self-proclaimed “leftists” listed, suggesting a tilt toward the left.  On the other hand, Galvan curiously omits mention of the pro-Fascist connections of several of the dictators during the 1930s.  The Samozas and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic displayed Fascist sympathies, and, although not covered, so too did Gaetulio Vargas of Brazil and the young Fidel Castro. 

This is a useful but by no means definitive handbook to recent Latin American strongmen.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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