Photo: “DSC04144“, by Luigino Bracci licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

De la Torre, Carlos. “The resurgence of radical populism in Latin America.” Constellations 14, no. 3 (2007): 384-397.


A specter is haunting Latin America: radical populism. Former presidents such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso and respectable media analysts have cautioned us about the dangers of charismatic and plebiscitary domination for democracy. They have warned us of the risks of irresponsible economic policies. A holy alliance is trying to exorcize the ghost of populism that periodically reappears even though its death has been constantly announced and predicted.

In contrast to the apocalyptic warnings of the media analysts and politicians we have an accumulated knowledge of populism that can help us arrive to more nuanced conclusions about its relationships to democracy. Over the last three decades we have seen a renaissance of studies. If previous scholarship based on modernization and dependency theories tied populism to specific economic and social forces, this new wave of research has uncoupled politics from what were understood as deeper structural determinants. Scholars have shown that populism is not necessarily linked to the transition to modernity or to import-substitution industrialization. The unexpected affinities between populism and neoliberalism stimulated research on the politics of structural adjustment under neo-populist leadership. More recently, the nationalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric of Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Eco Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador have provoked passionate debates on whether or not we are experiencing a rebirth of radical-national populism.