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09 Apr 2018, Vanessa Maebara, EMIS Editor

IS POPULISM RETURNING TO LATIN AMERICA?

Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, the three most populous countries in Latin America, are holding presidential elections this year and polarization is the name of the game, with populists of the right and the left the front-runners.

According to Andrés Velasco´s article for Project Syndicate, there are at least four lessons to be learned from the possible success of this new generation of Latin American populists.

First: It's not the economy. The economies of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico are growing, although slowly. But compared to the high inflation, weak finances, and unstable currencies that have often accompanied elections in these countries (especially in Brazil and Mexico), it is hard to deny that macroeconomic management has improved and local economies have become much more stable.

The second lesson: Crime and violence are the most salient issues for Latin American voters today. Complex solutions, such as prison reform and new drug laws, may be technically and morally right, but they do not translate into electoral support; a promise to shoot thieves (or guerrillas) does.

Third, establishment candidates seem doomed (Sebastián Piñera, Chile's recently elected president, may be the exception that confirms the rule). In Mexico, former finance and foreign minister José Antonio Meade, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, is an able technocrat and administrator. So is Geraldo Alckmin, the São Paulo governor and candidate of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party. And the same could be said of Colombia's Germán Vargas Lleras, a former vice-president, minister, and senator. All are darlings of the local business community. And all are languishing in the polls.

Last but not least: Latin American centrist candidates, whether liberal or social democratic, have not managed what Justin Trudeau in Canada or Emmanuel Macron in France did so well: to weave a convincing narrative of why they want to govern and for whom.

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Image credit: CP DC Press / Shutterstock.com Original source: Project Syndicate

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