The Department of Government
The Department of Government

The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Latin America

Mon, April 30, 2012

Raúl Madrid, associate professor of government, has published a new book, “The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Latin America,” analyzing the fate of indigenous political parties in seven Latin American countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua). The book offers original insights about the dynamics of ethnic politics, with new explanations for how ethnic parties achieve electoral success and how they impact the political system more generally.

Madrid demonstrates that the demographic context within which ethnic political parties operate is critical to understanding successful electoral strategies. Whereas previous research has concluded that ethnic parties will be exclusive and exacerbate political polarization, Madrid argues that in societies with large ethnically mixed populations where ethnic boundaries are blurred, ethnic parties succeed electorally by reaching out across ethnic lines and dampening ethnic polarization.

In Latin America, successful indigenous political parties have combined inclusive ethnic appeals with personalist, nationalist, and anti-establishment appeals — what Madrid terms ethnopopulism. These parties have gone beyond their base in the indigenous movement, forging ties with non-indigenous leaders and organizations and developing inclusive populist platforms that have succeeded in mobilizing constituencies disenchanted with the traditional political parties and their market-oriented policies. These inclusive ethnopopulist appeals have enabled the indigenous parties to assemble broad, multi-ethnic coalitions that have propelled them to victory in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.

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