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Why Latin America’s Center is Holding

The Viennese writer Stefan Zweig allegedly said, “Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be.” Likewise, centrist politics in Latin America has perpetually been on the horizon – until now.

SANTIAGO – The Viennese writer Stefan Zweig allegedly said, “Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be.” Likewise, centrist politics in Latin America has perpetually been on the horizon – until now.

To outsiders, the region is virtually synonymous with political polarization. Fatigue-clad guerrillas, charismatic populists, and reactionary military junta leaders have long cut much larger figures than moderate politicians in boring gray suits.

But Latin America has a long – if not always fruitful – history of centrist liberal reformers. In the nineteenth century, liberals laboriously separated their nascent states’ institutions from those of the Catholic Church. In the 1930s, politicians of the moderate left, responding to the havoc wreaked on the region by the Great Depression, built the rudiments of a modern welfare state. In the 1960s, centrist politicians of different stripes – many of them Christian Democrats – struggled to find an alternative to the threat of armed revolution and the totalitarian politics of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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