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The Americas 58.3 (2002) 498-499

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Modernization in Colombia: The Laureano Gómez Years, 1889-1965. By James D. Henderson. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001. Pp. xvii, 508. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $55.00 cloth.

James Henderson, the author of two previous monographs on Colombia, When Colombia Bled: A History of the Violence in Tolima (1984) and Conservative Thought in Twentieth Century Latin America: The Ideas of Laureano Gómez (1988), returns to the themes of both books, but now in a much broader work.

The title of the present book seems contradictory, or at least paradoxical, because few would associate Laureano Gómez with the theme of modernization, broadly conceived. Henderson describes the modernization in Colombia's economy, society and culture that occurred during the twentieth century. The case for political modernization, however, is at best mixed; while the mechanisms and content of economic policy-making were modernized, there continued a tradition of political factionalism, often empty of relevance to pressing national needs. Furthermore, Colombia suffered prolonged political violence from 1946 to 1957, and subsequently has endured large-scale homicide prompted by varying interests and causes. Henderson makes clear that Gómez played an occasional role in economic modernization, developing transportation as minister of public works (1925-26) and presiding over national planning as president (1950-53). But, as the author also makes evident, Gómez's social views [End Page 498] were extremely traditional and his political behavior highly destructive. Throughout his public life, Gómez sought to maintain traditional modes in society, culture, and politics. With the Church as his moral guide, he decried the emergence of urban secular culture. Further, in politics he was the pre-eminent example of the worst in the Colombian political tradition--a man moved by unbridled personal ambition, whose strident and intransigent partisanship found expression in overheated rhetoric and violent action. The author describes both sides of Gómez's peculiar relationship to modernization but leaves unexplained why he has chosen to focus particularly on Gómez in a book on the modernization of Colombia.

I found Henderson's discussion of economic, social, and cultural changes informative, and his treatment of politics quite perceptive. There are some errors of fact that would be tedious and space consuming to detail. One might note, however, some questionable understandings of economic visions. President Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934-38) is described as a "Keynesian" (pp. 211, 242), apparently on the ground that López supported government intervention in land and labor matters, questions not normally associated with Keynes. In fact, López opposed deficit spending, the central theme of Keynesian economics. Carlos Lleras Restrepo, finance minister under President Eduardo Santos (1938-42), might more appropriately be considered Colombia's first de facto Keynesian. Similarly, because President Alerto Lleras Camargo (1945, 1958-62) supported import substitution industrialization, the author considers him an adherent of the "dependency school" (p. 390). In fact, while Raúl Prebisch's analysis of terms of trade provided a foundation for later dependency theory, the politicians of 1945-60 who presided over import substitution industrialization did not subscribe to dependency theory as it later developed. Indeed, Henderson himself notes that a later generation of dependentistas scorned Lleras Camargo and his "oligarchic National Front" (p. 409). Finally, while the importance of small coffee growers in Colombia is widely recognized, Henderson may gild the lily a bit in affirming the "democratic structure" of the National Confederation of Coffee Growers (pp. 325-340).

On partisan politics after 1890, Henderson is deeply informed and authoritative, with astute discussions of political behavior in general and the Violencia in particular. He differs from most Colombian (and North American) academics in relying more on Conservative sources and in attributing negative partisan behavior before and during the Violencia as much to Liberals as to Conservatives. More than in other standard academic sources, he details Liberal initiatives in the use of local political violence both at the beginning of the Liberal administration of President Enrique Olaya Herrera (1930-34) and again immediately after the election of Conservative President...


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