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EL ESPECTADOR

Pests Of Populism: Latin America Knows Why Trump Won't Go Away

Like former presidents Álvaro Uribe and Evo Morales in South America, Donald Trump may keep infecting public life, even after he exits the White House.

A person with a mask walking next to the image of former president Alvaro Uribe Velez in Bogota
A person with a mask walking next to the image of former president Alvaro Uribe Velez in Bogota
Alvaro Forero Tascon

-OpEd-

No one has invented a cure for populism. It can be held at bay, temporarily, but never fully eliminated. Still, by detecting the symptoms and attacking the malady early on, we may substantially cut the risk of its reappearance. If, on the other hand, populism can progress unchecked, it will spread rampantly.

In the United States, the much-maligned institutions have won the battle against Donald Trump, at least for now. Trump will leave power in January, but only after feeding the enormous tumor of a supposed fraud that deprives the incoming Biden administration of legitimacy in the eyes of a big portion of the American electorate.

The real symptoms of populism first appear only when it is already well advanced. At first it seems laughable, a fight between one man and the great political and economic powers. But the populist has correctly identified a wound in society that is much deeper and more painful than the establishment realizes, because they have largely caused it. And it is almost always the result of inequality, which means certain problems disproportionately affect a particular sector of society.

The populist identifies this and defines it as corruption. Populists will attribute it to the elites, declare that they must be replaced, and present themselves as the solution. Using this simple formula, they achieve something profound, namely to rob their political adversaries of legitimacy for being members of the "corrupt" upper-echelon. Society thus becomes divided into the "phonies," on the one hand, and "the people," whom the populist claims to represent.

A Trump election rally in Pennsylvania — Photo: Reporters via ZUMA Press

The populist manages to politically reengage and revive social sectors that have been sidelined by democracy, and mobilize the institutions of state — or so it seems — to address their grievances. But all the populist really does is activate disenchanted citizens on the basis of rage, fear, division and exuberant promises that then generate collateral damage.

This makes it difficult for a newly enraged and divided society to reach necessary consensus to apply real solutions. In delegitimizing their adversaries, populists delegitimize democracy, which rests on pluralism. And by delegitimizing democracy, they open the way to abuse it by attacking and coercing the institutions blocking their way.

It's at this point that the authoritarian vocation of every populist emerges, with personal rule seeking to replace legality and the rule of opinion taking the place of the rule of law. These help the leader keep power.

Societies with more robust institutional immune systems, like Colombia or the United States, can successfully expel them from power though without fully curing themselves from the infection. The sickness keeps trying to return to power and continues to fiercely delegitimize institutions and opponents, as exemplified by figures such as Peru's Alberto Fujimori, Colombia's Álvaro Uribe and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Using fraud as his "trump" card, Trump still has the ammunition to dominate politics from the opposition, as Uribe did against the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018). If Trump keeps imposing his agenda on the media through fake news, he will push the Biden administration up against the wall and keep the Republican Party at his mercy. And as a result, U.S. politics will be reduced to one man's irrepressible quest to return to power.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski

-Analysis

PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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