Populist forces continue to emerge in Latin America, causing instability and uncertainty across the region. Populist forces in the region first rose to prominence during the beginning of the period of import substitution industrialization in the 1930s. They emerged taking advantage of the growing demands of the rapidly expanding urban working class for mass politics and the expansion of social benefits. Populism was rampant in Latin America for more than 30 years following the 1930s, but fell into decline with the emergence of military regimes in the 1960s and 1970s. However, populist forces emerged yet again in the 1980s with the wave of democratization and the accumulation of public dissatisfaction due to a series of economic crises. The so-called neopopulist forces took power in Latin American countries in the 1980s and 1990s, combining neoliberal economic policies with the typical ‘us’ versus ‘them’ discourse that is typical of populists.
While a rapid transition to neoliberal policies led to various social and economic problems, traditional parties and politicians were not able to respond effectively to those problems. In this context, a new populist wave, combined with what was called the 21st-century socialism, emerged in the 2000s. In the 2010s, new breeds of populism appeared one after another, and the spread of populism is not expected to disappear in Latin America in the near future. Social and economic inequality is worsening across the region in the aftermath of COVID-19, and public distrust of established party politics and existing democratic institutions is growing higher than ever. All in all, there is fertile ground for populist forces to spread even more, claiming that they are the only ones who can eliminate the ‘incompetent and corrupt’ establishment and truly represent the “virtuous” people.
With the spread of populism expected to continue in Latin America, there is a growing need to investigate the social and economic impact of populism. Against this backdrop, this study examines the impact of populist forces in power on the inflow of foreign direct investment, the quality of democratic institutions, and the foreign policy directions of Latin American countries. Based on our empirical evidence and qualitative analysis, we provide several recommendations for the Korean government and corporations. The contents of our research are as follows.
In Chapter 2, we examine how populism has been defined in the existing literature and provide an explanation about the definition of populism we adopt for this research. This study follows the ideational definition of populism, which conceptualizes populism as a ‘thin-centered’ ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, the ‘people’ and the ‘elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people. At the core of diverse phenomena labeled ‘populist,’ ranging from classical populism from the 1930s to 1960s and neopopulism in the 1980s across Latin America to recent populism not only in the region but also around the world, there is this ‘thin-centered’ ideology. In addition, we provide in this chapter a literature review that can hint at how the core characteristics of populism may affect our variables of interest.
Chapter 3 examines the impact of populist forces in power on the inflow of foreign direct investment, quality of democratic institutions, and foreign policy directions. We conduct empirical analysis using a panel dataset including 18 Latin American countries from 1999 to 2021, employing regression analysis and synthetic control methods. We then complement our empirical evidence with some case studies on populist rule. Our findings are as follows.
First, our regression results show that the presence of a populist government or a stronger populist tendency of the ruling government do not necessarily lead to a decrease in foreign direct investment inflow. We find that the negative impact of the presence of a populist government or a stronger populist tendency of the ruling government is pronounced in left-wing regimes. A populist in power or a stronger populist tendency are associated with a larger inflow of foreign direct investment under centrist and right-wing governments. Our findings from synthetic control methods suggest that a populist in power on average leads to a decrease in foreign investment inflow regardless of its ideological orientation. In our case studies, we examine how a number of populist governments in Latin America have implemented their economic policies and how they have affected foreign direct investment inflow.
Second, our findings from regression analysis and synthetic control methods suggest that a populist in power and a stronger populist tendency adversely affect the quality of democratic institutions regardless of the ruling government’s ideological orientation. Our case studies illustrate a typical populist strategy to attack democratic institutions, with examples of left-wing and right-wing populist governments from the early 2000s to recent times. They confirm how populism and democracy are inherently incompatible. Moreover, we suggest that the authoritarian tendency of populist governments has strengthened during the recent COVID-19 period, which provided a number of populist governments with an excuse to suppress civil liberties while strengthening executive power.
Third, we suggest that a populist in power tends to politicize foreign policy. The role of the governing ideology becomes more important than pragmatism in foreign policy decision-making, which is personalized and has authority concentrated on the ruling populist’s inner circles. In order to secure support from their core constituencies, populist governments attempt to break away from traditional policy directions and follow their governing ideology in foreign policy decision-making. We complement our case studies with our findings from synthetic control methods. We employ a variable quantifying how close individual countries’ voting patterns in the UN General Assembly are to that of the United States as a proxy for their policy stance towards the United States. Our findings show that left-wing populist governments tend to design their foreign policy to decrease dependence on the United States.
Chapter 4 presents the implications of our research for the Korean government and businesses. First, it is necessary to pay attention to the recent movement of resource nationalism led by left-wing populist governments across Latin America. One should note that resource nationalism, including nationalization measures, is an important variable to consider for investment and cooperation decisions by the government and companies interested in securing critical minerals and strengthening supply chains across the region. Most of the left-wing populist governments in Latin America seem to be expanding the role of the state in strategic industries such as oil, core minerals, and electricity through anti-neoliberal and nationalist rhetoric. The Korean government and businesses are required to respond actively to the changing political landscape.
Second, the Korean government and businesses should keep in mind that once populist rule is consolidated through referendums and constitutional amendments, it can result in a rapid transition from a democratic regime to an authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, the authoritarian tendency of populist governments has strengthened with the spread of COVID-19, which makes the possibility of a regime change even greater in some countries across the region.
Third, the foreign policy directions of Latin American countries in which populist forces are in power can be ideologicalized and personalized at any time, breaking away from their traditional policy directions. It is also being observed that like-minded populist governments in Latin America are strengthening their solidarity with other countries both within and outside the region based on ideological similarities. In this context, this study recommends the Korean government pursue its foreign policy based on values and norms while making additional efforts to cooperate with countries under populist rule employing instruments such as economic cooperation or high-level diplomacy.