Populism and the People

Populism has been one of the defining characteristics of politics in Latin America. Since it’s inception with the Caudillos in the 19th century, populism started fading, only to resurface in the politically complicated 1930’s. Populism consisted of empowering the people to participate in politics by utilizing anti-corporate/anti-elite discourse and promising reform to benefit the majority of the population.

The widespread adoption of the radio and therefore incorporation of many radio stations throughout Latin America, led to widespread access of information to people that could not get information otherwise. This proved to be an essential tool for populists to reach the widely uneducated masses that had no access to newspapers and political documents. Radio became the main channel on which ideas and calls to action became disseminated to the majority of the population that directed their support towards populist candidates.

Through ideas of reform, expropriation, and empowerment, populist leaders molded their discourse to be simple, concise, and to the point. Through their discourse and ideas that encapsulated the thinking and understanding of a vast majority of workers, peasants, and members of the rising middle class, populism became an extremely efficient political tool for leaders of the late 20’s, the 30’s, 40’s, and could be argued, is still efficient today.

Leaders such as Juan Domingo Perón and Lazaro Cardenas, both representatives of the popular classes, are examples of populist leaders and how they usually get into power. They both supported dignity in labour, elimination of poverty, and nationalization of private, profitable enterprises. The emphasis of nation building under a highly structured government became the staple characteristic of these types of governments. Ideas of unification of the large working class and the emerging elite  became the main selling point of populist regimes, where the worker was seen as one of the most important parts of nation-building.

Overall, this phenomena brought extensive change to the political status quo of Latin American countries. By directing the aim of policy towards the lower classes, workers, and the emerging bourgeoisie, populism became a highly effective way to obtain power through majority vote. Whether it was for good or bad is relative to each persons place in society, but overall it can be said that this was a big change nevertheless.


  1. I understand the good and bad that came about from the introduction of the radio, however I think that overall it had a positive impact on everyone as it gave a voice to the poorer classes.

  2. This period in Latin American history definitely gave the lower classes a larger voice. I think that both good and bad outcomes came from this, but overall I think this a very positive moment in history as the poor had finally gotten some form of a voice.

    1. I agree in that the lower classes came to have somewhat of a voice during this time period, but did they really have the power they seemed to have? Or was this just an illusion of power that kept the general population happy?

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