Latin American Populism, Civil Society Organizations, and Ecuador’s Public Sphere
On October 9, 2019, Susan Appe, Daniel Barragán and Fabian Telch have published an article entitled “Organized Civil Society Under Authoritarian Populism: Cases from Ecuador” in Nonprofit Policy Forum.
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
In their paper, Susan Appe, Daniel Barragán and Fabian Telch have offered a qualitative interpretation, based on long-term fieldwork, of the manner in which “civil society organizations (CSOs) in Latin America cope with authoritarian populism” (1), such as through “coping and adaptive strategies by CSOs” (1). This study is positioned in broader scholarly literature on the implications for civil society of ““soft authoritarianism,” “personalistic plebiscitarianism,” and populism, both left leaning and right leaning, in countries that include Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Argentina and more recently Brazil” (2). These authors have, thus, empirically investigated the “strategies employed by organized civil society during a leftist, authoritarian populist regime in Ecuador […] [through] [d]ata collection [that] included government archival documents, media reports and documents produced by CSOs. The on-site fieldwork began in 2009 and included participation in dozens of meetings and informal conversations with civil society leaders” (3).
As these scholars delineate, in Ecuador, “[w]hile CSOs’ role in public policy spheres became more institutionalized in the 1990s, it had been relevant since in the beginning of the twentieth century with strong ties to the Catholic Church and elite society” (3). In contrast, as this study suggests, “[t]he leadership style of authoritarian populism includes charismatic, direct discourse and an authoritarian approach to power. Populist politicians share a particular way of appealing to the masses, by attacking the establishment and ruling elites” (4). Consequently, according to the findings of Appe, Barragán and Telch, “the ways in which CSOs manipulated the organizational configurations [of authoritarianism and populism] suggest that civil society under authoritarian regimes might be able to stunt the absolute shrinking of civil society” (9).
This article, therefore, argues that, “while civil society-government relations have been documented as changing and cyclical (Young 2000), so too is organized civil society itself” (9). At the same time, these researchers also point out to the limitations of their conclusions, as, “while Ecuador provides insight to left-leaning populism in Latin America, further research might [be necessary to] assess the Ecuadorian case in comparison to more right-leaning populism […] in other contexts, and […] in Latin America” (9) more generally, given that “Ecuadorian CSOs have the capacity, knowledge and experiences to be a global resource for learning about authoritarian and populist regimes […] and how CSOs might respond” (9).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: OAS Authorities, Foreign Minister of Paraguay and Heads of Delegation Hold Dialogue with Youth, Civil Society, Workers, and the Private Sector, Asunción, Paraguay, June 3, 2014 | © Courtesy of Juan Manuel Herrera/OEA – OAS/Flickr.