Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

Commerce, coercion, and culture went hand in hand in the growth of a US “informal empire” throughout the hemisphere. This empire may have been informal, and its guiding principle may have been the free market, but it was enforced through violence when necessary. Where the United States felt that its political or commercial interests were in jeopardy, it was quick to send in the Marines or otherwise wield a big stick, to maintain order on its own terms. At the same time, the dance between Latin America and the USA has been a collaboration in which often both sides freely acquiesced, and in which it is not always clear who has the upper hand.

9. Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

Commerce, coercion, and culture went hand in hand in the growth of a US “informal empire” throughout the hemisphere.

Note that each chapter of the textbook comes with online resources on the publisher's website. Simply click on the relevant tab for this week's reading.


Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire III

Hamid Alizadeh, Tyler Farrago, Ruze Guvenc, and Livia Oliveira:

“Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire”

Mitchell McLeod and Hannah Smith:

Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire II

Adan Barclay and Nayid Contreras:

The Cold War

Aerial Photograph of Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site During Cuban Missile Crisis

Alec Dawson (Professor, History and International Studies, Simon Fraser University), author of Latin America Since Independence: A History with Primary Sources, discusses US policy towards Latin America during the Cold War.

This podcast complements chapter nine of his textbook, “The Terror” (though it also goes equally well with chapter six, “Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire”).

Some trinket, the product of technological superiority (European or North American) is exchanged for gold (spices, ivory, tea, etc.). The native is relieved of something he would never have thought of using for himself or as a means of exchange.

[. . .]

Each time this situation recurs, the natives’ joy increases. As each object of their own manufacture is taken away from them, their satisfaction grows. As each artifact from civilization is given to them, and interpreted by them as a manifestation of magic rather than technology, they are filled with delight. Even our fiercest enemies could hardly justify the inequity of such an exchange; how can a fistful of jewels be regarded as equivalent to a box of soap, or a golden crown equal to a cheap watch? Some will object that this kind of barter is all imaginary, but it is unfortunate that these laws of the imagination are tilted unilaterally in favor of those who come from outside, and those who write and publish the magazines.

  • Carmen Miranda: Bananas is my Business. Dir. Helena Solberg. 1995.
  • John King, Ana López, and Manuel Alvarado (eds.), Mediating Two Worlds: Cinematic Encounters in the Americas. London: British Film Institute, 1993.
  • Alan McPherson, A Short History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chichester: John Wiley, 2016.
  • Myra Mendible (ed.), From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010.
  • Louis Pérez, Jr. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy. Third Edition. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  • Stephen C. Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Second Edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, 2005.

  1. What is an "informal Empire"? In what ways is it an "empire," and in what ways is it not?
  2. How did (or how do) commerce, coercion, and culture interact in the relationship between the United States and Latin America (and the rest of the world)?
  3. How did the "Cold War" between the USA and the USSR both shape and distort political movements in Latin America?
  4. Analyze the rhetorical strategies of Augusto Sandino's "Political Manifesto." How does this text construct the political divisions on which it depends?
  5. Consider the relationship between military power, scientific knowledge, medicine, and international philanthropy in Silent War. To what extent do they depend upon each other, and to what extent might they be separated out?