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The economics of populism is failing in Latin America


Anger at the perceived failure of the political class has driven a wave of populist leaders but their lack of economic success is worrying for the region's future.

The spectre of populism – both of the left and right variety – has hung over Latin American politics and economics since the 19th century but, for the last two decades, a new wave of populist movements and leaders has developed as a result of ongoing economic dislocation and popular anger at the political class.

Although too early to assess the impact of the recent elections in Ecuador and Peru on populism’s future in the region – with 18 presidential candidates in Peru only narrowly being winnowed down for a 6 June 2021 run-off with the two leading candidates boasting just a combined total of around 30 per cent of the vote – for many countries in the region the long-term effect of COVID-19 on economic growth and social mobility casts a dark shadow.  

For long-term political stability and economic growth in the region, this is not good. Even before the pandemic, conditions were fertile for the rise of populist movements as leaders such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador – whose ally Andrés Arauz in a surprise result lost the 11 April second-round election to conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso – Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) all rode a wave of social distrust as established party systems collapsed in their countries.

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