The Caribbean coast of Colombia has not yet received the historical attention it deserves. Three principal factors explain this neglect. First, since independence in 1821, Colombia’s Andean elites have identified their nation with its central regions and have successfully relegated the Caribbean to the periphery, influencing both Colombian and foreign historiography. Second, archival sources on the region are scant and of uneasy access. Third, costeños themselves have not developed a strong tradition of history writing, which contributes to the first two factors. Recently, however, thanks to the efforts of some costeño intellectuals, notably Orlando Fals Borda and Gustavo Bell, the interest in the history of the coast has been increasing. Eduardo Posada-Carbó’s book is a welcome addition to this new trend.

Overall, the book places itself within Latin American regional studies and attempts to explain why, in Colombia, regional cleavages affected the development of the national state at least until the 1950s. Skillfully complementing local and national sources with travel accounts and diplomatic sources, Posada-Carbó examines the development of the Colombian Caribbean coast between 1870 and 1950 by focusing on six different sectors, which constitute the six chapters of the book: agriculture, cattle, town and countryside, transport, external influences, and politics.

Posada-Carbó’s study convincingly destroys the validity for the costa of several myths in Latin American or Colombian history. The first is that regionalism is a barrier to national integration. The author argues that costeño regionalism, on the contrary, “was a reaction against what was considered as an exclusion of the coast from the main trends of national development” (p. 250).

Another myth questioned here is that the deadlock in Colombian agricultural development was caused by a backward agrarian structure. Posada-Carbó shows that on the costa, the traditional haciendas were exceptional; small and middle-sized independent holders abounded, and the land market was active. The root of the agricultural problem, moreover, was labor shortage, communication difficulties, and hard climatic conditions that progressively made cattle—on both large and small, independent estates—the best adapted industry for the region and for its integration into the national market. The book also challenges the view that costeño rural laborers were tied to estates by a system of debt peonage. On the contrary, as labor was in high demand, the book argues, employers had to pay anticipos to attract workers, who then often vanished before completing their task.

Finally, Posada-Carbó’s analysis of the role of the United Fruit Company in the coastal economy diverges from previous examinations of the company. It shows that banana production, far from being the UFC’s monopoly, also comprised local cultivators, and that in contrast to other countries, the Colombian UFC’s labor force was vastly national. The book also disputes the assessment of the UFC as an enclave by discussing its overall impact on the development of the economy of the coast.

This book provides the first history of the Colombian Caribbean coast from the 1870s to the 1940s. Without adopting a polemical tone, it masterfully demonstrates the significance of the costa to Colombian history. No doubt, its rather top-down approach neglects some aspects of this history, such as social relations, interregional rivalries, religion, culture, and ideology. We can hope that Posada-Carbó’s pioneering work will stimulate further research on this fascinating region.