Lesley Gill’s study takes a reader through nearly a century of economic and political transformation in Colombia’s northwest, from the 1920s, when the area was a foreign oil enclave, through the 1960s era of nationalized oil and state-controlled unionization, to a more recent period of what the author terms “armed neoliberalism” (19). It’s the story of how an interventionist and nationalist state asserted subsoil rights to establish the state-run ECOPETROL and then allowed its development model to morph into a violent neoliberalism, greatly weakening the city’s working class along the way.

Gill focuses on the Middle Magdalena region, specifically, the town of Barrancabermeja (also known as Barranca), an area that in the 1920s was controlled by the foreign-owned Tropical Oil Company (TROCO). In a particularly strong section of the work, Gill examines how foreign oil production transformed the area, with the...

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