In order to examine the strategies employed by populist leaders in Latin America, we will look at three prime examples: Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Juan Perón, and Getúlio Vargas, of Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, respectively, to show that the success of populism involves the careful forging of a relationship between a charismatic leader and the working class people.
Whileone worker alone did not stand as a powerful political actor, massive groups of laborers posed a large threat to the traditional social order that had characterized Latin American society for centuries. Populist leaders acknowledged the increasing urban concentration due to rising manufactured production and they used large cities to their advantage, drawing new masses of voters into theirmovements by appealing to their needs and desires. For example, in Brazil, under the regime of Getúlio Vargas, the right to vote was granted to women in 1932, which stretched the voting capacity and granted Vargas more faithful female followers. As well, populist politicians confronted working class problems from a standpoint that embraced the diversity that comprised the nations, and allowed them togain followers from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds under the notion that the workers of the nation were united by their common material needs. These leaders ‘knew how to stir a crowd of workers with rhetoric based on nationalism, class struggle, and traditional gender relationships’ and by uniting the industrial workers under one common struggle, this ‘new labor force possessed greaterAnderson 2
class consciousness than any previous one in Latin American history.’ For instance, the Peronist movement of Argentina ‘took working-class consciousness, habits, lifestyles,
and values as it found them and affirmed their sufficiency and value’ in order to create a pseudo working-class nationalism founded on the issues that were important to the working people, whichwere ‘addressed primarily in terms of concrete economic issues’
Latin American populists offered resolutions to the economic problems that plagued the working class people because they realized that their support was a group of ‘class-conscious actors seeking a realistic path for the satisfaction of their material needs’. Peronism became a success in Argentina, for example, because‘from the workers’ point of view [it] was in a fundamental sense a response to economic grievances and class exploitation.’ An important element in the economic agenda of populism involved the criticism of the oligarchic structure, which had dominated the political and economic spheres of Latin America since post-colonial independence. Populists ‘blasted the corruption and privilege oftraditional oligarchies closely linked to the shattered import-export system’ and equated the economic devastation of their nations with the existence of the elite class. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán associated the political leaders of Colombia with the oligarch, criticizing their ‘use of public office for private gain’ thereby adding ‘an economic dimension to his political critique’ of the traditionalpower
structure. Populism challenged the long-established socio-economic order by securing rights for the workers, such as welfare programs, trade unions, and modern labour codes
and addressing ‘the social question: the misery, the high cost of living, the declining wages, the industrial crisis, the lack of bank credit, commodity hoarding etc.’
Perhaps themost essential feature of the populist leader’s relationship with the working class was his ‘capacity to recognize, reflect, and foster a popular political style and idiom based on plebian realism.’ The ability to connect with the audiences through the power of words proved to be a vital element of the populist’s success. While each populist leader had an individual speaking style, each...
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