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Populista, by Will Grant

1. Populista by Will Grant
Populista, by Will Grant
“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” — Fidel Castro

For more than six decades, Fidel Castro's words have echoed through the politics of Latin America. His towering political influence still looms over the region today. The swing to the Left in Latin America, known as the “pink tide”, was the most important political movement in the Western Hemisphere in the 21st century.اضافة اعلان

It involved some of the biggest, most colourful, and most controversial characters in Latin America for decades, leaders who would leave an indelible mark on their nations and who were adored and reviled in equal measure.

Parties became secondary to individual leaders and populism reigned from Venezuela to Brazil, from Central America to the Caribbean, financed by a spike in commodity prices and the oil-backed largesse of Venezuela's charismatic socialist president, Hugo Chávez. Yet within a decade and a half, it was all over.

Today, this wave of populism has left the Americas in the hands of some of the most authoritarian and dangerous leaders since the military dictatorships of the 1970s.

In his classic Raízes do Brasil (1936) the Brazilian historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda — the father of the musician and novelist Chico Buarque — wrote that Brazilians are always looking for a miracle: An unexpected saviour to solve the country’s deep-seated problems.

After a decade of political and economic crises, what 49 million Brazilians most recently latched on to was Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme version of a familiar authoritarian trope.

Will Grant’s ¡Populista!: The rise of Latin America’s 21st-century strongman features a provocative front cover: Bolsonaro faces Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, both in profile against a mustard-coloured backdrop, the military men staring each other down across an ideological chasm.

The point is clear: While Latin America’s “pink tide” was a pivot to the left, which funnelled the proceeds of the commodity boom into social projects, it wasn’t entirely divorced from the region’s long caudillo (strongman) tendencies.

Figures such as Chávez (who died in 2013) and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega (incumbent since 2007) systematically dismantled the checks and balances built into their states — such as they were — consolidating power and eliminating meaningful opposition; Evo Morales of Bolivia (president from 2006 to 2019) became steadily more autocratic and less tolerant of opposing views as his period in power progressed, ending up referring to himself in the third person.

Rafael Correa of Ecuador (president from 2007 to 2017) trolled opponents and railed against what he called a vindictive, manipulative press, which he tried to muzzle.

In a series of six novella-length journalistic portraits, ¡Populista! adds in the milder, more socially democratic Luis Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil (president from 2003 to 2011) and, surprisingly, Cuba’s Fidel Castro (1961–2011), a protagonist of a different era, but one who survived just long enough to participate in the rise of the region’s left through the early 2000s.

Will Grant is one of the UK's leading broadcast journalists on Latin American affairs. He has been a BBC correspondent in Latin America since 2007 with successive deployments to Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba.

Across his career, he has been responsible for covering the region from Patagonia to the Rio Grande and has travelled to every part of the continent in that time. He is currently based in Havana and Mexico City.

“An ambitious, riveting, and essential book that has much to teach us about the recent history of this region, and about the human impulse towards populism that continues to shape the world.” — Ben Rhodes, bestselling author of The World As It Is

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