In the literature on the turn to the left in the wider Latin American region, Central America has generally been neglected. The aim of this article is to seek to fill that gap, while specifically assessing the left turn's impact on prospects for democratization in the sub-region. Using three case studies - El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua - the article questions the usefulness of transition theory for analysis and instead offers a framework based on state/civil society interaction within the context of globalization. Four key conclusions are made: First, democratization is not a linear process, but can be subject to simultaneous processes of democratization and de-democratization. Second, continued deep structural inequalities remain central to the region's politics but these often provoke unproductive personalistic and partisan politics which can inhibit or curtail democratization. Third, interference from local and/or international economic actors can curtail or reverse democratization measures, underlining the influence of globalization. Fourth, Central America is particularly revelatory of these tendencies due to its acute exposure to extreme oligarchic power and outside influence. It hence can help shed light on wider questions on the blurring of boundaries between state, civil society and market and its impact on democratization, especially within the context of globalization. In this way the article contributes to the analysis of Central America in the current context of the 'pink tide', underlines the importance of continued analysis of Central America for democratization studies, and brings new insight to debates on transition theory. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.