The Neoliberal Undoing: The Failure of the Promise in Bogotá by Alan Grostephan

Colombia is been heralded as one of the longest-uninterrupted-democracies in Latin America with the contradictory characterizations as one of the most politically conflictive countries in the region as well. Like many of its South American neighbors, Colombia embraced neoliberal reforms, popularly introduced in the 1990s, which have served as both a bane and boon to Latin America, depending on whom you may poll. Nevertheless, Wendy Brown, in Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution argues that in fact neoliberalism is incommensurate with democracy, and instead may undo the very foundational culture of democracy. "The institutions and principles aimed at securing democracy, the cultures required to nourish it, the energies needed to animate it, and the citizens practicing caring for or desiring it - all of these are challenged by neoliberalism's "economization" of political life and of other heretofore noneconomic spheres and activities." (Brown 17). Taking Brown's idea as a point of departure, this paper contends that neoliberalism continues to sustain the very inequities that have driven the violence in Colombia for the last even decades and will further serve to entrench these in its current articulation. By close-reading Alan Grostephan's Bogotá, this paper will showcase one family's demise in the neoliberal city. In the novel, the protagonist Wilfredo faces a decision experienced by many impoverished Colombians: flee, fight or become a fatality. Faced with violent threats in their rural town, Wilfredo and his family decide on the first option (flee), finding themselves in a sprawling slum outside of Bogotá, forced to remake their life and livelihood. The novel demonstrates a family whose new belonging is built upon instability - a life in transit, an identity in motion. Each of the family members must reckon with the alternative citizenship thrust upon them by their displacement. This paper offers an examination of the encounters, inequities, and discord of urban life as seen through Wilfredo, in hopes of demonstrating how urban neoliberalism sows destruction through the construction of the façade of neoliberal promise. 

I am part of an organized panel. The panel is entitled: Citizenship and the City: Re-Defining Belonging in Urban Latin America" and the organizers are Catalina Esguerra and Silvina Yi.


  • Spanish American Studies