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Sun. March 03, 2024
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The Dark Cloud of Milei's Victory
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In Latin America, the rise to power of Javier Gerardo Milei in recent elections has sparked apprehension regarding the fate of democracy in this region. Traditionally viewed as a festive expression of popular choice, Milei's triumph has now cast doubt on the very foundations upon which democratic ideals have been diligently constructed throughout time. The emergence and growing influence of populist leaders such as Milei present an imminent danger that jeopardizes both the stability and advancement achieved by Latin American democracies.

The Populist Wave:

Milei's victory is not an isolated incident but rather part of a broader populist wave that has been sweeping across the region. Populism, characterized by charismatic leaders who claim to represent the voice of the people against established elites, tends to undermine the institutions that form the backbone of a healthy democracy. The danger lies not only in the policies these leaders pursue but also in the erosion of democratic norms and values. And like many examples that we have seen not only in Latin America, but worldwide, said political phenomenon emerges when the “people” are dissatisfied with their present government/situation. In Brazil, for example, a nation that borders Argentina, Bolsonaro emerged out of the frustration with the Worker’s Party’s almost lifetime ruling. Not only, but the emergence of the Car Wash Scandal, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – ever seen in Latin America highly influenced the “people’s already present discontent. Milei’s victory in Argentine should – then – not be a huge surprise for the aware spectator, but a shame.

Threat to Minorities and Marginalized Groups:

Populist leaders often target minorities and marginalized groups, using divisive rhetoric to consolidate their power. A victory for Milei, fueled by populism, could further embolden these trends, threatening the very fabric of social solidarity that binds nations together. Populist leaders often scapegoat particular groups, blaming the perceived grievances of the majority. This not only deepens existing divisions but also creates an environment where discrimination and intolerance are more acceptable. The consequences of such divisive strategies go beyond the politics of the day. The erosion of social cohesion has a profound and lasting effect on the overall health of a society. Characterized by a wide range of cultural diversity, Latin American countries thrive when there is a sense of unity and integration. But the rhetoric and actions of democratic leaders can fracture this unity, creating an "us versus them" mentality that has pitted citizens against each other. I should clarify that by “disadvantaged communities” I mean any group, be it ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and those who are not economically disadvantaged. In populism, we see the struggle between the “people” and the “evil elites” embodied by the president. What Milei does here, not alone, is to identify himself as part of the community but as a prominent figure, nonetheless. And with that elite favoritism, and the power of the current president, Argentina’s minority could be in grave danger.

The Need for Democratic Resilience:

So what we need in Latin America is more democratic reform. Latin American countries should focus on strengthening democratic institutions, promoting public education, and fostering an inclusive culture of tolerance. Voters should be alert to the potential pitfalls of populism and eroding democratic values. Strengthening democratic institutions involves a comprehensive approach that involves the organization and functioning of key institutions such as the judiciary, parliament, and executive to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader, autonomy and transparency in in this organization is important. Establishing effective checks and balances ensures that no individual or group can subvert the democratic process for personal gain. At the same time, promoting public education is essential to developing an informed and engaged citizenry. By increasing understanding of democratic principles, the rule of law and the importance of public participation, societies can empower individuals to actively participate in the democratic process, and public education acts as a fighting shield against the manipulation of public sentiment, as one accustomed to voting is less susceptible to divisive rhetoric and misinformation.

Iuri M. Piovezan is a graduate student at Villanova University studying Political Science. He has also received a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies from Temple University in 2022.

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