Latin America and the Eternal Political Pendulum of the Caudillos

Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel and the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, during a military parade in Mexico City’s Zócalo in September 2021. (José Méndez/EFE)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 1 January 2023 — Some call it the political pendulum, others classify it as the necessary ideological fluctuations imposed by history and there is no shortage of those who compare it with a cachumbambé (or seesaw) that sinks some party leaders in Latin America today while elevating others. The academic definitions or the labels coined by the headlines of the press matter little: the ideological oscillations between the governments of the continent are becoming, in all the essentials, less and less differentiated.

When Gabriel Boric came to power in Chile, Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución rubbed its hands. The Cuban authoritarian regime believed that in the South American president it would have a faithful follower who would accept its policies and silence its human rights violations. This has not been the case and, over the months, the new president has been turning towards pragmatism and more moderate positions. Although from the Moneda Palace a clear voice condemning the repression in Cuba is not heard, nor is complicit applause is not heard and the accusatory finger he raises at the excesses of the autocrat Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is clearly seen.

The disaster of Pedro Castillo in Peru also calls into question the theory of ideological oscillation in the region. With a campaign that presented him as a humble teacher who was going to rescue the poorest social classes from oblivion, the Puña native ended up surrounding himself with a cabinet that had little to do with his initial left-wing discourse or with his proletarian demands. Caught between his ineptitude and the complexities of governing such a diverse nation, he preferred to flee forward and embark on the ridicule of a failed coup.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is another of these. A declared critic of the press, a promoter of various conspiracy theories or falsehoods that he tries to validate in his soporific “mornings,” the Mexican leader moves according to convenience between a discourse that borders on populist clichés and opportunism. Although in international forums he stands side by side with Pedro Castillo, the recently sentenced Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, or the unpresentable Miguel Díaz-Canel, towards the interior of his country he plays with a confusing rhetoric that is said and unsaid every day. It’s like a pendulum, coming and going as it pleases.

Nor is El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele, chameleon of chameleons, spared either. The one who presents himself as a “tweeter in chief” also breaks into Congress with armed soldiers. He can be hypnotic in his speeches, modern in his use of social networks and even innovative in his proposals to fight organized crime, but in the end he is nothing more than the grotesque and well-known Latin American caudillo who believes that citizens should be treated as small children and punished as if we were still in diapers.

Faced with so much political decadence, the shameful Nicolás Maduro can always remain as an extreme example. Clumsy, incapable and ridiculous, the Venezuelan caudillo helps us understand that it is not about ideological colors or a dilemma between liberalism versus socialism. Our region is sick with autocrats or apprentice dictators. Decades after the publication of The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez, The Recourse to the Method by Alejo Carpentier or I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos, Latin America continues to be a region of caricature leaders, of leaders who produce more fear or laughter than admiration.


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