populism in latin america

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Theorizing Populism

In recent years, Latin America has seen a rise of presidents with leftist ideologies labeled by many as ‘Latin America’s left turns’. However key differences in the manner these governments respond to and manage majority-minority relations and individual rights, as well as their economic criteria and political order has a created a division between the ‘good’ social democrats and ‘bad’ populists. Many scholars such as Francisco Panizza, Romina Morelli, and Mitchell Seligson argue that the existence of these two political ideologies reflects the incomplete nature of democracy in the region. Although many aspects of populism, taken to the extreme, can be problematic by limiting democratic order, the existence of both ideologies does not overall limit democracy in the region. The majority of leftist presidents in the region have strong commitments to safeguard individual rights, rule of law, and a system of checks and balances. Furthermore, many studies and surveys have shown that the median voter in the Latin American region remains slightly to the right in terms of political ideology. Also, these scholars treat the case studies of Venezuela and Bolivia as similar examples of ‘bad’ populism in order to demonstrate the threat of populism to democracy. However, there are many important elements that make these two cases different- one more extreme than the other- thus both are not necessarily limiting democracy in the region.

The differences of the ‘good’ social democrats and ‘bad’ populists, as labeled by Jorge Catañeda, are very apparent. Although both seek to endorse sovereignty of the people, the social democrats are characterized by their embrace of representative democracy, respect for human rights, and address to poverty and economic growth through policies of neoliberalism. These presidents include Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and Tabaré Vázquez (Panizza and Morelli, 39). While the

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