Michael L. Conniff, ed. Populism in Latin America. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1999. ix + 243 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8173-0970-1; $44.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8173-0959-6.
Reviewed by Ralph Lee Woodward (Department of History, Texas Christian University)
Published on H-LatAm (October, 1999)
This work may be seen as a sequel to Conniff's earlier collection of essays on Latin American Populism in Comparative Perspective (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), which described populist leaders from the 1920s through the 1960s. The present volume, however, as described by John Wirth in his brief "Foreword" to the work, "is a more comprehensive volume than the first one, and a more mature appraisal of a complex phenomenon" (p. vii). Like the earlier volume, this work focuses on twentieth-century Latin American leaders who fall into the broad and often ambiguous definition of "populist." At the very least, they had in common their appeal to large segments of the population, often through effective use of new technologies of media communication.
This volume had its origin at a conference organized by the editor at Auburn University in 1991. Most of the chapters treat populist leaders in various Latin American states: Joel Horowitz on the Argentine, Michael Conniff on Brazil, Paul Drake on Chile, Jorge Basurto on Mexico, Steve Stein on Peru, Steve Ulnar on Venezuela, Ximena Sosa-Buchholz on Ecuador, and William Francis Robinson on Panama. Central America and the Caribbean, along with Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay, are left out, although there are certainly examples of the populist type there as well. These chapters vary somewhat in approach and style, but all provide highly informative overviews of populist leadership in the twentieth century. A final chapter by Kurt Weyland, "Populism in the Age of Neoliberalism," focuses especially on the revival of populism in the 1980s, and particularly on the administrations of Carlos Menem in Argentina, Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil, and Alberto Fujimori in Peru. Weyland challenges the argument that neoliberal policies are incompatible with populism. He suggests that these leaders have used neoliberal economics to strengthen their appeal to the electorate, thus becoming "neopopulists."
In addition to his article on Brazil, Conniff provides fine introductory and concluding essays to the volume. In the former, he not only summarizes the succeeding chapters, but also provides a general definition of populism which is broad enough to include all of the leaders included in them. Following a fairly detailed discussion of the characteristics of twentieth-century populism, he then reduces it to the formula: "populism = leader <-> charismatic bond + elections <-> followers" (p. 7). Conniff also gives the reader a lucid historical overview of populist politics in the twentieth century and its evolving characteristics. His concluding essay, or "Epilogue" focuses on new research directions, to which he appends a very useful bibliographical essay.
Conniff's second populism anthology thus provides a stimulating review of its subject that should be useful both to scholars and students just beginning their study of Latin America. The volume is especially appropriate for undergraduate surveys and advanced courses on the twentieth century.
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Ralph Lee Woodward. Review of Conniff, Michael L., ed., Populism in Latin America.
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