BUENOS AIRES — In Latin America today, what is the future of populism?

In Ecuador, socialists in power are discussing among themselves how to abandon populism. President Lenin Moreno seems determined to ditch populist policies. The economy's figures are in red due to overspending and foreign debt. The viability of its redistributive system has fallen apart with the collapse of oil revenues.

In Brazil, the justice system is blocking the return of populism. Courts are the only obstacle stopping former president, and populist, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, from returning to power. Corruption seems to have overwhelmed the entire political class — both the government and opposition. Brazilian President Michel Temer, who is trying to reorder the economy, has to pass laws with a parliament whose legitimacy is dented. He hopes that one of his measures — to reform employment regulation — will make the country competitive again while avoiding a complicated task for his successor. If the courts ban Lula from holding public office, populism will lose steam and the political future will open up.

Not running is to gamble on time.

In Venezuela, populism has taken a sinister turn. The regime of President Nicolás Maduro appears set on definitively abandoning the democratic path and republican government. His newly created Constituent Assembly is the end of one road, and the start of another. Which is why the opposition is debating whether or not to take part in the regional elections the government will organize. One sector opposes participation, and another believes the opposition must field candidates. The dilemma is that running for office means accepting the rules of a game that will legitimize an autocratic regime.

Not running is to gamble on time, and on a "street revolution" or the regime's internal fracture. Meanwhile Maduro has had a bit of good luck: U.S. President Donald Trump's declarations on the possible use of force on Venezuela have come in handy in rousing populist rhetoric.


Venezuelan President Maduro in Caracas on Aug. 23 — Photo: Efe/Cristian Hernandez/Xinhua/ZUMA

Of course, Venezuela's regional neighbors came together to unanimously condemn any potential American use of force. There is no limit to the White House's diplomatic clumsiness, as it blithely overlooks the rejection in this part of the world of America's history of regional interventions.

In Argentina, if the results of recent primary elections are confirmed in the legislative elections of October, the Kirchner era has drawn to a close. In this scenario, new political models combining elements of the democratic center, left and right, can restore strategic value to a region that has been somewhat undervalued of late. Two periods will then close together: one is the Castro cycle that began with the Cuban revolution, and the other, the socialist model forged by the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Latin America can then, hopefully, initiate a new process of democratic reconstruction.

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