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Populism in Latin America

The Practice Of Populism, Features Of Populism, Bibliography

If the term populism was initially borrowed from radical farmers' movements in the United States in the late nineteenth century to describe early-twentieth-century political developments in Latin America, since then it has certainly acquired a special relevance for understanding this region's politics. The golden era for Latin American populism is usually cited as the 1930s to the 1960s and identified with such preeminent populists as Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) in Mexico, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre in Peru (though never president), and Juan and Eva "Evita" Perón in Argentina (1946–1955). If populism had a transformative impact on the region's politics, it was assumed that the series of military dictatorships beginning in the 1960s ended the populist phase. But since the 1980s Latin America has unexpectedly witnessed a round of neopopulism, with an expansion of the possibilities for popular political practice. Populism, it is clear, is a more enduring feature of the region's political landscape than once imagined.

Political analysts, however, have had great difficulty precisely defining populism. A wide selection of political goings-on have been called "populist." These include radical farmers' movements (Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution), or movements of radical intellectuals who valorize the "peasantry" (Luis Valcarcel's "Indianism" in Peru), and also spontaneous grassroots peasant movements (the populist Mexican Revolution's Zapatistas, but not the Cuban Revolution), dictatorships (Argentina's Perón, and more recently, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela), as well as distinctly reactionary populisms (Rene Barrientos in Bolivia). Since the 1980s we can add neoliberal neopopulisms and the populist practices of the New Social Movements to more documented variations.

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