The 1990s ended equivocally in Latin America. What has gone wrong? Is economic failure the cause or the consequence of the democratic decay and the erosion of governance throughout the region? The review essay revisits the debate on the intricate links between politics and economics in the second stage of reform. Moving beyond standard typologies of regime type, it explores the interactions between the quality of democratic governance and the performance of economic policy under democratic auspices, in particular its credibility. It is now amply recognized that reforms have been hindered by inefficient unreliable and unaccountable government institutions. Furthermore, the manner in which market reforms have been implemented has undermined governance and accountability. The importance of policy credibility has essentially been neglected as a pivotal condition for effective economic reform. Consequently, policymakers propose a new round of reforms, centring on strengthening the institutions of governance and modifying the incentives shaping public policy. The essay argues that restoring the credibility of policy requires a fundamental redefinition of the state and reforming the methods of government and the styles of policymaking. The defining challenge of Latin American countries is to strengthen capacity to adequately implement policy and credibly commit to policy reform. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.