‘Populist!’ avoids generalizations common in Latin America – Sylvia Colombo

British journalist Will Grant, who has spent the past 20 years traveling across Latin America as a BBC correspondent, has just published “Populista! – The Rise of Latin America´s Twenty-First Century Strongman ”(“ Populist! The Rise of the 21st Century Strongman in Latin America ”, imported, ed. Head of Zeus). It is a gathering of encouraged profiles of five former Latin American leaders and one currently in power: Bolivian Evo Morales, Ecuadorian Rafael Correa, Venezuelan Hugo Chávez, Brazilian Lula and Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega. In addition to the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926-2016), who appears as the one who would have paved the way for others.

The bond of all is respectful with regard to the historical, conjunctural and personal differences of each one, and does not fall into the generalizations which are usually made in relation to Latin America by observers of the Anglo-Saxon world. Grant works with the dubious “pink tide” label, a political phenomenon he finds between Chavez coming to power in 1999 and the death of Fidel Castro in 2016. However, he does so critically and responsibly.

Among the commonalities of the profiled leaders, Grant lists that they were, for a time, unbeatable in the elections and, to win them, presented themselves as “one of his own” to the humble population, working class, native or mulatto. . They deserve to be recognized for having opened up political spaces so that these sectors of society can have a voice, which has not happened before. They also put the poor at the top of the agenda and struggled to value indigenous identity.

It shows that most of them ruled as if they were on a constant election campaign. Evo Morales with his private jet tours across the country, Chavismo promoting elections almost every year, Correa with his travels across the country and the endless declarations of the weekend.

In explaining his appeal to the electorate, Grant says this is mainly due to the fact that previous governments, both military dictatorships and less inclusive democracies, “simply did not work for a large part of their population. country”.

However, fifteen years later, it was all over, and badly, for almost everyone. Chávez died and his country deepened into the dictatorship it is today, Correa was sentenced and took refuge abroad, Lula spent time in prison and Evo was forced to resign. Only Ortega remains in power, although in a Nicaragua in serious economic, social and health deterioration.

After their departure, millions of the poor were lost and in the hands of those who opposed these governments. At least for a while – in the case of Bolivia, the MAS has managed to return to power, now without Morales.

The negatives of these leaders, for the author of the book, were that they strayed from their original intention, which he believed to be good and honest at first. It was about building, in fact, a deep social and economic transformation in their countries. However, believing that they would “fix” their structural and historical problems, they eventually fell into the trap of selfishness, vanity, and began to believe that only they could accomplish this task. Therefore, they began to want to drag on in power, manipulating or changing the Constitutions.

His growing authoritarianism is said to have led to a weakening of institutions and an increase in the number of opponents of his regimes. The key to understanding how their governments ended, Grant says, is to assess their relationship with opponents. The harsher and more repressive the response, the worse the response. This would have been the backdrop to the processes that have emerged to undermine these governments. Something not yet seen in Venezuela, however.

The portraits of each character (which Grant calls “Shakespearean and” colorful “) are very interesting, with a lot of historical and personal information _Grant has interviewed almost everyone_ and giving voice to the people he has had contact with in each. country. It provides tools which allow the reader to accept or refute the author’s positions in the preface and in the epilogue with numerous arguments and good information.

It is curious and intriguing that the Argentinian case has not been included, while Peronism is part of the canon of Latin American populisms. And, at the time of the so-called “pink wave”, it had its potential equivalent in Argentina, embodied in the couple Néstor and Cristina Kirchner.

The cover of the book is quite provocative, as it brings in images of Chávez and Bolsonaro. The president of Brazil, however, is not among those profiled. In one of the interviews he gave, Grant explains that the option was intended to draw attention to the fact that populism is neither right nor left.

It is enjoyable read and highly recommended for those who wish to understand Latin America.

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