Latin America’s Populist Hangover

What to Do When the People’s Party Ends

Don’t cry for me: supporters of Argentine President Mauricio Macri celebrating, November 2015. MARTIN ACOSTA / REUTERS

On the morning of October 17, 1945, thousands of protesters in Buenos Aires marched on Argentina’s main executive building, the Casa Rosada, to demand the return of Vice President Juan Perón, who had been forced to resign a week earlier. The day was hot, and many of the men took off their jackets and even their shirts. This earned them the mocking title of los descamisados—“the shirtless.” Perón’s supporters promptly reclaimed the insult and turned it into a badge of honor. When Perón ran for president in the 1946 election as an unabashed populist, he toured the country in a train he named El Descamisado after his followers.

The descamisados, and those like them, were integral to the populism that dominated Latin American politics from the 1930s until recently. Starting with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas, who first assumed power in 1930, and leading all the way up

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