It should hardly come as a surprise that The Andes in Focus makes for sobering reading. After all, the five countries that make up the Andean region, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, are, in distinctive [End Page 195] ways, wrestling with profound problems. Their struggles have led to considerable turmoil and highly uncertain scenarios. A confident, optimistic outlook does not come easily.
This edited volume offers a judicious, clear-headed appraisal of a region that is a veritable laboratory for challenging social and political analysis. The book contains separate chapters on each of the Andean countries, along with a pair of essays on U.S. policy toward the region and a concluding chapter. The chapters are coherent, crisply written, mercifully free of jargon, and admirably accessible to both policymakers and academics. The generally lucid, excellent accounts are, in most cases, followed by a helpful chronology of key events.
Any volume dealing with the Andes, of course, presents a major difficulty. Given the particular characteristics and explanatory factors that account for the problems in each country and the various manifestations of such problems, to what extent does it even make sense to refer to the Andean region as a single unit? Is it perhaps more fruitful to analyze each country in turn and eschew a regional focus? Russell Crandall, the principal editor, deals with the difficulty head-on and sensibly. He acknowledges the sharp and significant variations among countries, yet argues for considering the region as well, because of the common phenomena present. His framework recognizes the pillars necessary for stability in the region: national security, democracy, and economic health, reflected in the volume's subtitle. What he terms the "elusive trinity" actually becomes the shared reference point for all the authors.
To be sure, these pillar issues contain substantial overlap. However, it is not clear whether they have similar weight or, even though the preface argues that a "focus on one will often subvert the others," whether they can realistically be pursued simultaneously. With the exception of Colombia––which, after all, has the only ongoing internal armed conflict in the hemisphere and therefore continues to accord security the highest priority––an examination of the other four countries underlines the primacy of democracy or, more specifically, the poor quality and low efficacy of political institutions.
Peru features perhaps the most striking coexistence of relatively strong economics, on the one hand, and notably precarious politics, on the other. Even though he presides over an impressive macroeconomic performance, President Alejandro Toledo has the lowest level of public support of any president in Latin America. The sharp disappointment with Toledo has contributed to the widespread revulsion of the entire political class. The antipolitical sentiment can be discerned in the nostalgia in some sectors for exiled former president Alberto Fujimori, who, from 1990 to 2000, led an outrageously corrupt regime. In the Peru chapter, "The Trauma of Postdemocratic Consolidation," Ramiro Orias Arredondo correctly maintains that "one of the main challenges facing [End Page 196] democratic reconstruction in Peru is to strengthen the political parties and make them credible once again" (p. 84). True enough, though such a statement could justifiably have been made roughly 15 years ago. Despite Peru's political and institutional troubles, however, Orias's prognosis seems a bit hyperbolic: "The economic hardship and disillusion with government that fuels street protests and local outbursts of violence has the potential of turning far more antisystemic and of propelling Peru once again into civil war" (p. 83).
The Ecuador chapter, "Democracy and Economy in Crisis," by Fredy Rivera Vélez and Franklin Ramírez Gallegos, would have been even more pessimistic had it been written after the ouster of President Lucio Gutiérrez on April 20, 2005. In contrast to the previous crises, in 1997 and 2000, when presidents Abdala Bucaram and Jamil Mahuad, respectively, were forced from office, this time (and echoing the Peruvian experience) the entire political establishment was severely repudiated. Also unlike the...