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Populism in the Caribbean

According to scholars, there are several conditions that favor the rise of populism: poor social and economic conditions, erosion of institutions, especially political institutions, and the presence of charismatic leaders (Deiwiks, 2009). Poor education of large parts of the population can also contribute to the rise of populism, although research of the Dutch case (and the populist Geert Wilders) has shown that the more educated are well represented in the growing populist voting base.[1] Lately, wide access to media has been added to the list of favourable conditions. The media make it possible for populists not only to send their simplified messages, often a set of one-liners, to the people, but also make it possible to hear the voice of the people (Castells, 2009).

A further factor promoting the rise of populism is a pronounced gap between the wealthy and the less well off. Although appeal to this gap may form part of the populist construction of an in-group, populist governments have not necessarily been successful in reducing that gap. The large inequity and the rich natural resources create a fertile ground for populism in Latin America. Demagogic leaders, fostering a direct tie with the masses, promise that they will bring rapid change. These leaders often have a military background and profess nationalism, pushing foreign interests out.  While they preach anti-capitalism they make deals with capitalism. Populists in Latin America advance redistribution of growth and income, while often ignoring inflation (Economist, 2006). But the inequity remains. Studies show that social democratic programmes score better than populist programmes. The reduction in inequity brought about by populist government is attributed to luck (Economist, 2006; Birdsall, 2011).

Although the rise of populism has been widely discussed and debated in the Caribbean context, little has been published about it. One possible reason for this apparent lack of interest in the subject in the Caribbean is that populism in this setting is often mistaken for patronage and nepotism. Although these two factors add a specific dimension to populism in the Caribbean, they do not define populism.

The present study is an attempt to overcome that apparent shortcoming inthe literature, and to present a description of the way in which populismfinds expression in the context of Curaçao.

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