Written by a distinguished historian of American foreign relations, Inevitable Revolutions is a well written and well documented history of USA policy towards Central America from the end of the 19th century to the Reagan/Bush 1 period. Lafeber provides not only the basic narrative but a nice analysis of the basic structural features of US-Central American relations. The fundamental structural feature that emerges at the end of the 19th century is essentially an colonial one. The Central American nations are the site of considerable US investment and their role in the US economy is to provide primary products for the US market and markets for US industries. In addition, the Central American nations (like several Caribbean nations also subject to US domination) are close to crucial sea lanes, a fact enhanced by the construction of the Panama canal. To guarantee political and economic stability, the US government underwrites the power of local oligarchies. In the first decades of the 20th century, this involves numerous direct military interventions. By the 30s, however, US power rested on indirect rule via indigeous governments, usually oppressive military regimes like that of the Somoza family, ruling in tandem with a small upper class. The nature of the economic relationship between the US and the central American nations, and continued population growth, resulted in progressive impoverishment of the majority of people in central American. The ultimate result is that political and social change are possible only via violent political revolutions, either coups to transfer power within the ruling elites, or actual attempts at real social revolutions aimed at the reconstruction of society. Since the USA was the guarantor of the status quo, the attempts at actual revolution, or even relatively moderate levels of reform within these societies, were intrinsically anti-American.
Added to this combustible mixture were the anxieties of the Cold War with the lamentable tendency of Washington policy makers to assume all attacks on the status quo as manifestations of Soviet revolutionary policy. This led to increased military support for almost Central American states, often transforming the primitive militaries of these natiions into more professional but frequently independent and highly destructive political forces. Even the well intentioned efforts to promote economic growth under the Kennedy administration tended to exagerrate existing social inequalities and promote social conflict. This situation results in the inevitable revolutions of Lafeber's title.
Lafeber devotes the last 2 chapters to an incisive and scathing description and analysis of the Reagan/Bush years. This is a sad tale of ideological blindness, simplistic belief in the value of military power, overemphasis on Presidential executive power, and simple stupidity. As Lefeber is careful to point out, US actions had the effect of markedly exacerbating the conflicts in Central America. The consequences were horrible. In El Salvador in the early 1980s, our client government may have been responsible for as many as 50,000 deaths. Since El Salvador had a population of about 4.5 million, this would be the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the USA.
As the events regarding the CAFTA negotiations appear to demonstrate, its not clear that the fundamentals of the US - Central American relationship have changed greatly.