This is a most welcome book, the first in English to analyze internal Dominican politics from the end of the United States intervention in 1965 to the present. The principal focus of the book is on the role of the armed forces in Dominican politics. There are several major themes. First, at the theoretical level, Atkins makes a persuasive case that standard theories on civil-military relations in Latin America are inapplicable to the Dominican Republic because such theories are based on the premise that the armed forces are a cohesive, disciplined corporate institution, whereas in the Dominican Republic the military is “non-institutionalized,” a collection of personal fiefdoms. Though the Dominican military plays a central political role in its society, its objectives are not political, ideological, or even institutional, but simply to maximize the power and wealth of the leading officers. A second major theme is the total failure of the United States to develop an apolitical and professional military establishment, which was ostensibly one of the major American goals—and responsibilities—following the 1965 intervention. To the contrary, throughout the long, dreary Balaguer years (1966-78), the military was just about as corrupt, opportunistic, and repressive as it had been under Trujillo. Balaguer was able to retain power largely because of his ability to manipulate the generals and keep them happy, either by turning a blind eye to, or by actively encouraging, the blatant corruption and the fierce repression of the political opposition.
It may be that Dominican politics have taken a happier turn since 1978, when Balaguer was defeated by Antonio Guzmán, a liberal reformist, and military plots to override the elections and keep Balaguer in power were thwarted by a combination of Dominican revulsion covering nearly the entire political spectrum and sustained political and economic pressures by Venezuela and the United States. (It was one of the rare bright moments in recent United States policy toward Latin America, for which Jimmy Carter should receive the full historical credit.) Of course, only time will tell whether Guzmán will be successful in his efforts to gain control over the armed forces, get them out of politics, and establish the basis for institutionalized democracy in the Dominican Republic.