Understanding the state in Latin America requires an understanding of the challenges and challengers that it is facing. This paper argues that the region’s three major transitions at the end of the 20th century (i.e. democratization, liberalization and decentralization) each posed distinct challenges to the state. It then uses the concept of infrastructural power to conceptualize the actors who are challenging the state, distinguishing between those who threaten either its territorial power or its relational power. Turning from challenges and challengers to responses, the paper identifies three different types of changes (i.e. policy, institutional, and regime) that states have adopted to undercut, accommodate, or defeat challengers. Finally, the paper underscores the difficulty of measuring state deficits in post-decentralization Latin America.