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State and Society in Conflict: Comparative Perspectives on Andean Crises (review)

From: Latin American Politics & Society
Volume 49, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 190-194 | 10.1353/lap.2007.0047

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Drake and Hershberg's edited volume is a welcome addition to what begins to look like a sizable collection on Andean politics. This recent outpouring of comparative work on the Andes rightfully corrects an overly simplistic view of Latin America's rich diversity, offering a much-needed understanding of a little-known set of cases; namely, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

This sudden interest in the Andean nations undoubtedly springs from the perception that the region is in deep trouble: volatile, unstable, violent, turbulent—all are terms commonly used to describe its social and political dynamics. The volume under review here is no exception: Drake and Hershberg's introductory chapter opens by stating that "since the 1980s . . . the five Andean countries have been suffering a crisis of deteriorating relations between state and society" (1). The editors and contributors have made, however, a conscious effort to avoid the mechanical (and often implicit) association of the region's problems with the drug trade and its dire consequences. The volume's title heralds the volume's ample scope and ambitious agenda: instead of focusing on a single issue, such as drug trafficking, they set out to explore the complex problems facing the region from a dynamic and relational perspective, taking both the state and society into account.

There is, of course, no use in denying that most Andean countries have confronted critical situations in recent times. The interesting question is whether what we are witnessing is a regionwide crisis caused by common factors or just the temporal coincidence of different national crises. Drake and Hershberg's answer to this question is straightforward: a guiding principle of their anthology is that "the contemporary troubles in the Andes must be understood in a broader theoretical, historical, and comparative framework, not just as idiosyncratic turbulence in individual countries" (4). The main argument running through their introduction is that a major dislocation between Andean states and their societies occurred as a consequence of the disruptions caused by the economic crisis of the early 1980s. Since then, four interconnected dimensions have characterized the Andean crises: the lack of a consensual national development project, the absence of a viable alternative economic model, the prevalence of unmediated forms of participation, and the increase in challenges to political institutions. The array of multidisciplinary contributions included in this volume (the last two written by political scientists from the region) loosely follows this dimensional analysis.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 set the stage for the following case-oriented chapters. In his excellent chapter ("Unfinished States: Historical Perspectives on the Andes"), Jeremy Adelman continues his exploration of a crucial theme: the persistent weakness of the nation-state in the Andes. In following his own advice that "to understand the turmoil now gripping the region, it is necessary to track back to the key historical experiences that have shaped it," Adelman's insightful chapter offers a much-needed historical background to many of the region's current ailments.

By contrast, Ann Mason and Arlene Tickner take up the task of dealing with two issues that together have come to define (albeit in a negative way) the region's contemporary identity: the cocaine trade boom and the U.S. antinarcotics policy. Since the late 1980s, the Andean region has become inextricably associated with drug trafficking and the fight against it. Mason and Tickner's chapter ("A Transregional Security Cartography of the Andes") goes a step further by clarifying the multiple and complex linkages between drugs and security issues, which provide a common frame for the various national crises in the Andes. Mason and Tickner's contribution effectively captures the international scope of the region's turmoil while also taking a critical view of the role played by the United States in the Andean drama.

In turn, John Sheahan's chapter ("The Andean Economies: Questions of Poverty, Growth, and Equity") fills a critical gap in our understanding of the region by focusing on its alarming levels of inequality and poverty—which obviously add to these countries' persistent social conflicts and pervasive sense of crisis. As far as I am aware, none of the recent volumes on the Andes offers the equivalent of Sheahan's brilliant treatment...

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