An informed and very informative Baedeker to the political, social, and economic status quo of all Latin American nations. Harvey, former Latin American correspondent for The Economist, returned to the area in 1986 to weave together his experiences of a dozen previous visits--specifically, to see how history and geography have shaped those societies, and how far along they are ""on the path to peace, democracy and prosperity."" Latin America plunged into the democratic experiment with no effective preparation, inheriting Spain's feudal, authoritarian legacy. In the absence of substantial middle classes, Harvey explains, societies have remained divided, with few controlling ""haves"" and great numbers of ""have-nots."" The violence endemic to the region is a history of attempts to maintain or redress this imbalance. Despite variations peculiar to each nation's history, population mix, and natural resources, Harvey discerns a strikingly similar pattern: de facto oligarchy, with power derived from the support of the wealthy, the army, or both. Now, with the emergence of new industrial classes, more prosperous middle classes, and the rising expectations and awareness of those who work the land, a new political and social environment is in the making. Demand grows for participatory democracy, equitable distribution of power and wealth, and pragmatic and peaceful solutions to conflicts. Headline-grabbing hot-spots notwithstanding, the lessons are being learned: in 1975, there were only three democracies in the region; by 1986, there were 13. Uneven, rushed, and superficial in spots; nevertheless, a solid, perceptive book overall, and good reading, as Harvey offers firsthand knowledge absorbed with a minimum of distorting perceptions, and cogent analyses of individual nations.