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Post Is Leftist Populism on the Decline in Latin America?
Created by John Eipper on 05/15/16 4:46 AM

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Is Leftist Populism on the Decline in Latin America? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 05/15/16 4:46 am)

Is leftist populism declining in Latin America?.

This is a question many of us are pondering when looking at what is happening in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, or to a lesser extent in Ecuador, Bolivia or Nicaragua.

Failure, incompetence, corruption, autocracy and despotism were common factors of the regimes of the Kirchner dynasty in Argentina, or of Lula and Dilma in Brazil. Social pressure and democratic institutions defeated them.

Massoud Malek posed a question: Does impeaching a president make a country a democracy? The answer is yes: as imperfect as a democracy might be, to recall a corrupted and incompetent politician is the democratic way.

In Venezuela, the constitution also provides opportunities for impeaching the president for very much the same reasons as in Brazil. However, the current Venezuelan regime is probably the least democratic of all the Latin American countries, perhaps as much as Cuba. Moreover, because there is no separation of powers, the Electoral Council is illegally maneuvering to hamper the current legitimate process of recalling president Maduro. (In less than two days more than 2 million signatures were collected to support it! Only 175,000 were needed.) The government will probably succeed in stopping the recall, and the ruin of the country will continue on the same path.

Scarcities of food, medicines, water, electricity, basic services, etc., crime, impunity, drug trafficking, corruption and repression--you name it. There is also the macro economic crisis--inflation, devaluation, lack of international reserves, decreasing oil production, etc. These are common issues Venezuelans must face every day. It's become a matter of pure and simple survival. The situation is so grotesque, that even cash is scarce, because the government does not have enough funds to print more money. It is not able to pay the printing cost. I would prefer not to go deeper in describing the miseries of the country at this time.

The only justification for this situation is what the Venezuelan government calls "economic war against the people" and blaming--who else?--the United States of America, the empire, the villain, in an international capitalist conspiracy. Sound familiar? This was the Cuban political cliché during the blockade years.

But getting back to the original question, it is my opinion that populism in Latin America is not in decline; rather, it has momentarily retreated, a backward motion for the cases just mentioned. In some other countries, Bolivia with Evo, Ecuador with Correa and Nicaragua with Ortega, though the economic and social situation might be perhaps precarious, the regimes there still enjoy enough popularity to maintain the status for some time.

Furthermore, I believe that societies in Latin America, in general, are still democratically immature, for reasons I have commented in previous posts about democracies, and social frustration with politicians and ideologies of all kinds will be a perfect breeding ground for left (or right) populism.

JE comments: Populism in Brazil and Argentina has definitely experienced "retrenchment," to use Enrique Torner's term of late.  The final nail in the coffin will be Venezuela, if (more likely, when) Maduro falls.  I'm grateful for José Ignacio Soler's updates from Caracas.

But populism always comes back. Note that the United States with Trump is flirting with right populism.  The Donald is the closest thing to a Latin American caudillo the US has seen since--ever?  Bernie Sanders's day in the sun is drawing to a close, but his candidacy showed the appeal of left populism.

I'll be attending a conference in La Paz (Bolivia) this August.  It will be interesting to see the Evo Morales phenomenon up close.  He is already the longest-serving president in Bolivian history.

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  • Populism in US? (David Duggan, USA 05/16/16 4:56 AM)
    When commenting on José Ignacio Soler's post of 15 May, John E asked about populist US presidential candidates. What about Douglas MacArthur? He was approached by some to seek the Democratic nomination in 1952. Like the Caesar that he was, he wanted to be drafted and not run as a candidate.

    JE comments: We'd also have to add Ross Perot in 1992 and '96, and William Jennings Bryan (1896, 1900, 1908). Teddy Roosevelt leaned populist when he felt fit as a bull moose in 1912.

    Note that "true" populists (whatever that means) don't win presidential elections.

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