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Scholars of Latin America have recently begun to apply the bellicist approach to state building to the region, the central claim of which is that wars are a great stimulus to centralizing state power and building institutional capacity. This article argues that current applications of these models of state building are too narrowly specified to be of much use in Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world. Replacing the focus on interstate war with the more general phenomenon of interstate rivalry, alongside the consideration of intrastate rivals, allows us to account for the impact of both external and internal forces on the development of the state. I demonstrate the utility of this approach through several cross-sectional time-series analyses that provide evidence that external and internal rivals affect the Latin American state in a manner consistent with the general nature of bellicist theory.