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Reactionary Despotism in Central America*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009


This essay seeks to clarify the particular blend of sociohistorical elements that created a distinct form of authoritarian domination in El Salvador, Guatemala and, to a lesser extent, Nicaragua. Situations of ‘enclave’ versus ‘national control’, the consequences of export agriculture, the impact of the commodity cycle, and relations between the oligarchy and other social actors are examined in a comparative perspective to distil commonalities and differences. The emergence of a distinct variety of the capitalist state of exception followed the crisis of oligarchy brought about by the Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. State power became public at the time and the traditional oligarchies no longer ruled directly, although they were able to weave a relatively complex alliance. This is identified as a ‘reactionary coalition’ capable of resisting any change in the model of export agriculture, ‘unreformed’ capitalism, and political authoritarianism. This model is identified as ‘reactionary despotism’, and the contemporary crises of El Salvador, and Nicaragua are related to the deterioration of this form of political domination

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1983

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