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Cooperating with the Colossus

A Social and Political History of US Military Bases in World War II Latin America

Rebecca Herman

Publication Date - September 2022

ISBN: 9780197531877

320 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


During the Second World War, the United States built over two hundred defense installations on sovereign soil in Latin America in the name of cooperation in hemisphere defense. Predictably, it proved to be a fraught affair. Despite widespread acclaim for Pan-American unity with the Allied cause, defense construction incited local conflicts that belied the wartime rhetoric of fraternity and equality.

Cooperating with the Colossus reconstructs the history of US basing in World War II Latin America, from the elegant chambers of the American foreign ministries to the cantinas, courtrooms, plazas, and brothels surrounding US defense sites. Foregrounding the wartime experiences of Brazil, Cuba, and Panama, the book considers how Latin American leaders and diplomats used basing rights as bargaining chips to advance their nation-building agendas with US resources, while limiting overreach by the "Colossus of the North" as best they could. Yet conflicts on the ground over labor rights, discrimination, sex, and criminal jurisdiction routinely threatened the peace. Steeped in conflict, the story of wartime basing certainly departs from the celebratory triumphalism commonly associated with this period in US-Latin American relations, but this book does not wholly upend the conventional account of wartime cooperation. Rather, the history of basing distills a central tension that has infused regional affairs since a wave of independence movements first transformed the Americas into a society of nations: national sovereignty and international cooperation may seem like harmonious concepts in principle, but they are difficult to reconcile in practice.

Drawing on archival research in five countries, Cooperating with the Colossus is a revealing history told at the local, national, and international levels of how World War II transformed power and politics in the Americas in enduring ways.


  • Offers a new perspective on the period of World War II and its importance in the longer history of US-Latin American relations
  • Brings together the local, national, and international arenas in which the history of wartime basing unfolded
  • Integrates the international history of US-Latin American relations together with local histories of labor, race, gender, and law
  • Moves between the realm of high politics and the ground-level social and cultural histories of the communities surrounding US bases

About the Author(s)

Rebecca Herman is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.


"Rebecca Herman's Cooperating with the Colossus is a superb book. Wonderfully written and impressively researched, Herman's history greatly expands our understanding of the way Washington used Latin America as a testing ground for the creation of its worldwide military-base archipelago. Cooperating with the Colossus will immediately find a deserved place in the canon of international diplomatic history." -- Greg Grandin, Yale University

"The World War II years were a 'transformative crucible' in US relations with Latin America, Rebecca Herman demonstrates, requiring negotiation between the projection of American power in the name of protecting democracy, and incursions in the sovereignty of other nations. An outstanding, nuanced, and deeply researched study." -- Mary L. Dudziak, author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

"Cooperating with the Colossus provides a strikingly new perspective on the close encounters between US authorities and Latin American nations during World War II. Rebecca Herman brilliantly brings together the micro-level social tensions that erupted along the 'borderlands' of US military bases in Latin America during the war, and the macro-level impact of US basing on political concerns regarding national sovereignty in the region. Drawing on a vast array of sources from multi-national archival research, Herman delves into the extensive clashes and protests sparked by matters of racial discrimination, criminal jurisdiction, labor rights, and gender norms as US bases multiplied in Brazil, Cuba, and Panama. And then she goes a step further and offers us a stunning synthesis of these local dramas that amounts to a radical reinterpretation of the era of 'The Good Neighbor." -- Barbara Weinstein, New York University

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: The Specter of Guantanamo
    Chapter Two: High Politics and Horse-Trading
    Chapter Three: Base Labor
    Chapter Four: Discrimination in the Canal Zone
    Chapter Five: Sex, Honor, and Moral Hygiene
    Chapter Six: Criminal Jurisdiction
    Chapter Seven: Cooperation at the War's End

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