Rabe, Stephen G. The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. xxxvii + 247 pages. Paper, $19.95.
Historian Stephen G. Rabe's The Killing Zone is a powerful indictment of United States policy in Latin America during the Cold War. Rabe effectively argues that covert and overt U.S. interventions in Latin America from 1952 to 1990 were responsible for ushering in brutal dictatorships from Chile to Guatemala that killed hundreds of thousands of their citizens in an effort to suppress movements seeking greater political and economic inclusion. In contrast to Cold War triumphalism that dismisses Latin America's dead as "collateral damage" in a noble crusade to save the world from totalitarianism, Rabe makes a convincing case that the United States' primary goal was to maintain its historical domination of Latin America and the Caribbean rather than to defend itself against communist expansion into these regions.
The Killing Zone is an engaging synthesis of the literature on recent United States-Latin American relations that, as Rabe himself admits, contains few new revelations for scholars of Latin American history and politics. The Killing Zone, however, provides an accessible and detailed account that will likely surprise undergraduate students and the general public, particularly in the United States. Rabe relies upon declassified U.S. government documents to push past public officials' pro-democracy rhetoric, demonstrating that administrations from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan undermined democratically elected governments as well as funded and trained Latin American dictators who were known to suppress dissent by murdering and torturing their citizens. Rabe not only covers the better known accounts of American interventions in Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua, but also makes an important contribution in dedicating a chapter to the United States' overthrow of democratically-elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmfin in 1954. Although the event often receives short shrift in comprehensive studies of Latin America, the Guatemalan coup served as a model for U.S. covert action in the region and convinced many Latin American activists, including Che Guevara, that the United States would never permit their countries to restructure economies to address gross inequalities. Finally, Rabe also provides a great service in detailing the country-by-country chronologies often glossed over in textbooks, demonstrating that Latin American governments' engagement with the Soviet Union typically followed United States aggression rather than vice versa.
While The Killing Zone's narrative will be familiar to scholars of Latin America, Rabe pushes the analysis of U.S. policy in Latin America in important directions. While policymakers' racism toward Latin Americans and assertions of cultural superiority are generally emphasized in the literature, Rabe repeatedly quotes U. …