This fall, Horace Bartilow—a political scientist with areas of specialization in international political economy, international relations, and US foreign policy—will join SIS’s faculty. He plans to teach and mentor SIS undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students during his tenure while making academic contributions that broaden the perspective of international relations study beyond its traditional Western focus. He comes to SIS from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Political Science. We spoke with Bartilow to learn more about his background, scholarly interests, and accomplishments.
Shaped by His Experiences in Jamaica
Through his studies, Bartilow aims to understand the contradiction inherent in the US’s stated support for democracy around the world while, in practice, the country sometimes does the opposite. His interest has its genesis in his early life. Bartilow grew up in Jamaica during the 1960s and ’70s. His parents were both politically active people who attended rallies and served as Electoral Returning Officers during Jamaica’s 1976 general election.
“My parents were well-known and well-loved in their working communities,” says Bartilow. “The work that my parents did with the Jamaican elections impacted me.”
In 1977, his parents were hospitalized after a mob surrounded their car and threw a projectile through the window, shattering the glass, which then struck them. Weeks later, their house was graffitied with the words “Socialist dogs must die,” written in spray paint.
These traumatic experiences were symptoms of Jamaica’s escalating political violence. In his current research, which is based on declassified CIA, FBI, and US State Department documents as well as extensive interviews with former members of Jamaica’s Democratic Socialist government, former members of the political opposition, and a key US diplomat to Jamaica’s Democratic Socialist government, Bartilow has accumulated a treasure trove of empirical evidence, which shows that the violence in Jamaica was part of an elaborate US covert intervention to destabilize and discredit the Jamaican government.
“The declassified documents clearly show that the conservative Jamaican newspaper, the conservative opposition political party, the military, and the police—by 1980—were all funded by the CIA and became instrumental domestic actors in the covert operations against the Jamaican government,” says Bartilow. “It’s similar to what the US did in Chile in 1973, in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954…the list goes on and on.”
While Bartilow planned to attend the University of the West Indies, his parents urged him to study in the US: “I consider myself to be a political refugee. I never intended to live in the US—but my parents wanted me to come here after what had happened to them. That experience had an enormous impact on my approach to the study of American foreign policy and international politics.”
Contributions to the Study of Global Politics
Bartilow published his first book in 1997, The Debt Dilemma: IMF Negotiations in Jamaica, Grenada, and Guyana. In it, he explores whether money lending by the IMF varies based on regime type, as evidenced by whether or not the IMF lends more to countries with free markets and good relations with the US as opposed to socialist countries. In 2019, he published Drug War Pathologies: Embedded Corporatism and U.S. Drug Enforcement in the Americas in which he developed a theory of embedded corporatism to explain the US government’s war on drugs. His most recent research articles have been published in a number of prominent academic journals, including International Studies Quarterly, Foreign Policy Analysis, Security Studies, Latin American Research Review, and The National Political Science Review.
He is currently continuing research that stemmed from a study he began in 2017 on the CIA’s intervention in Jamaica during the 1970s. He was inspired to explore this topic after Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election made headlines in American media. Since then, his study has morphed into a much broader analysis of the inextricable linkages between white supremacy and US Cold War ideology in explaining US covert intervention in the non-white developing world.
“There is growing scholarly interest in how race shapes international relations, and I hope my current research will make a major contribution to this burgeoning field of study,” says Bartilow. “This book project has become much more significant than just Jamaica, a tiny country during the 1970s, with just 1.2 million people. Instead, Jamaica has provided me with a lens to understand American policymakers’ racial and ideological machinations as they engage in building and maintaining an informal empire.”
A New Home at SIS
SIS’s location in Washington, DC, is a boon to Bartilow, as he gains in-person access to the institutions he covers in his research—the IMF, World Bank, and the US federal government—as well as the National Security Archive: “All of the actors that I’ve studied and researched over the years, they’re right here in DC.”
Bartilow’s approach to teaching and mentoring students is that of pushing his students to have an open mind. He presents ideas that may conflict with the ones students have formed before they’ve taken his courses. He acknowledges that not everyone readily accepts new ideas. Still, he feels that, as an academic, he has a responsibility to expose students to ideas and histories that challenge their unconscious assumptions about politics and the world around them: “Even when you think what you know is true, you should always leave yourself open for further enlightenment.”
Bartilow looks forward to sharing new ideas with his students, contributing to the production of knowledge as a whole, and joining the world-renowned faculty at SIS: “It’s a great institution to be in, especially for the kind of work I do in American foreign policy and international political economy.”