In This Review

Latin America at the End of Politics
Latin America at the End of Politics
By Forrest D. Colburn
Princeton University Press, 2002, 137 pp

The one book on Latin America that is essential reading this year. Building on Francis Fukuyama's provocative assertion that history ended with the Cold War, Colburn sees the 1990s ascendancy of democracy and capitalism in Latin America as a victory by default, with the resulting dearth of ideological alternatives also lessening the sense of urgency for solving "trenchant problems of poverty and social inequality." Hence the region's democracies are "fragile, inefficient, and chaotic," while Latin American liberalism, shorn of its egalitarian content, risks losing its fundamental promise to provide opportunity. Indeed, the left is marked by an ideological vacuum, unable to address explosive urban growth, political fragility, environmental degradation, consumerism, or the persistence of poverty throughout the region. Although the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund call Latin America "middle income" based on per capita earnings, Colburn points out that a full third of its population barely subsists on less than $2 a day. But this book is no diatribe, and Colburn is sensitive to the deep ambiguity surrounding Latin America's cultural relationship with the United States. Skillfully interlacing the big picture with evocative and sympathetic individual portraits, his book is an elegantly succinct, if depressing, synopsis of the region's condition as it enters a new century.