Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro JOAQUIN SARMIENTO/AFP/Getty Images

Is Populism Returning to Latin America?

This is a crucial year for politics in Latin America: the region’s three most populous countries are holding presidential elections. And in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, polarization is the name of the game, with populists of the right and the left the front-runners.

SANTIAGO – Until recently, it seemed that Latin America had eluded the great white shark of populism, just as North America and Europe swam toward it with eyes wide shut. Yes, Nicolás Maduro’s chavista regime continues to imprison citizens and wreck Venezuela’s economy. Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua keep changing the rules of the game so that they can be reelected indefinitely. But the electoral defeat of the kirchnerista variety of Peronism seemed to mark a turning point in Argentina. So did the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and the replacement of her failed economic policies with an approach that recognizes that fiscal debts and deficits cannot keep growing forever.

The tone of politics in the region seemed to be changing for the better, too. The shrill accusations that turn all political adversaries into enemies seemed to be giving way to conciliation and negotiation, reflected, for example, in the important though short-lived agreements that permitted economic reforms at the start of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency in Mexico.

Well, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

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