When Harvard University and the University of London convened a conference to reexamine the 1952 Bolivian revolution on its 50th anniversary, few people noticed. A year later, however, Bolivia is very much back in the news. Triggered by nationalist fury over a proposed natural gas pipeline and the war on coca production, shantytown-dwellers and peasants converged on La Paz and forced the resignation of the pro-American, market-friendly president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada -- raising once again the specter of chronic instability and rural revolt that has plagued Bolivia's turbulent history. This book, the product of that conference, therefore arrives at a fortuitous moment. Among the topics examined is the role of the United States, which came to terms with the Bolivian revolution much as it had with Mexico's even while fighting similar movements in Cuba, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. With the indigenous majority, as elsewhere in the Andes, increasingly restive and urbanized, the explanation for the current instability may also lie buried in these dense studies, including one of Bolivia's peculiar combination of major improvement in literacy and education and persistent poverty and economic backwardness. But overall, the book's authors seem blissfully unprepared for the earthquake that shook the system just as their book was released: they conclude that Bolivia established a modicum of political order after its return to democratic rule in 1982.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Western Hemisphere From This Issue