Populist Playbook: The Slow Death of Democracy in Correa’s Ecuador
By Carlos de la Torre, March 19, 2015
Rafael Correa, a left-leaning academic turned populist politician, has dominated Ecuadorian politics since 2007. He won three presidential elections and has consistently maintained popularity rates of over 50 percent. His movement, the Alliance for a Proud and Sovereign Homeland, controls the legislature. The judiciary and all institutions of horizontal accountability are in the hands of his lieutenants. At the time of this writing, Ecuador’s National Assembly, as the congress was renamed, is modifying Ecuador’s 20th constitution, enacted during Correa’s term, to allow for his permanent re-election.
According to Correa, his regime is promoting a better democracy that is advancing social justice. He argues that his legitimacy lies in having won free and open elections. His critics contend that the extra-judicial use of presidential power, the erosion of horizontal accountability by other branches of government and the restriction of the independent press have led to what political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell has characterized as the slow death of democracy and its displacement by authoritarianism. According to critics, a new constitutional order has concentrated power in the hands of the president, and majoritarian mobilization led by a charismatic leader has taken precedence over the checks and balances and respect for basic civil rights essential to liberal democracy.
Correa brought stability to one of the most unruly nations of the Americas. Between 1997 and 2005, three elected presidents—Abdala Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad and Lucio Gutierrez—were ousted through congressional coups, severely undermining the institutions of Ecuador’s democracy: Bucaram in 1997 by a simple majority vote in Congress on charges of mental incapacity to govern, without any medical proof of his insanity; Mahuad and Gutierrez in 2000 and 2005 respectively, after Congress ruled they had “abandoned power,” when in fact each was still sitting in the presidential palace at the time of the rulings.
At the heart of Ecuador’s unstable politics was an electoral system that created incentives for party fragmentation and personalized rule. As a result, between 1979 and 2006, at least nine political parties had representatives in Congress. With few restrictions on inscribing new electoral movements, presidential candidates proliferated. When Correa was elected in 2006, 13 presidential candidates ran for office, the highest number since Ecuador’s transition to civilian rule in 1979.
Meanwhile, politicians used laws instrumentally, with the congressional coups being only the most egregious examples, and under conditions of economic deterioration caused by low oil prices, they ruled on behalf of the interests of domestic and external elites. Yet the country’s fragmented politics weakened these elites, leaving room for social movements to push for their agendas. In particular, Ecuador is home to a powerful indigenous movement that, in coalition with other movements, halted the implementation of some neoliberal reforms in the 1990s and early 2000s. Social movements also took advantage of the divisions among elites to successfully demand inclusion in the state apparatus. For instance, from 1988 to 2009, indigenous organizations controlled the program for bilingual education, and women’s groups were in charge of promoting policies of gender equality and inclusion.
Correa was elected in 2006 on a platform built in part on the demands of social movements and the left—resisting neoliberalism, convening a Constituent Assembly and not renewing the lease of the Manta military base to the U.S. But once in power, instead of allying with social movements, Correa used co-optation and selective repression to demobilize and control civil society. His government regulated the public sphere and declared a war on privately owned media.
During the past eight years of his rule, years in which an oil boom brought prosperity to most, many Ecuadorians accepted the Faustian bargain of trading their civil and political freedoms for economic welfare. Now, falling oil prices may bring a new cycle of political instability and could put an end to Correa’s state-centered model of resource-driven modernization.
Taking on the Political Establishment
Correa entered politics as the ultimate outsider, vowing to rebuild all institutions from scratch. He never belonged to a party and was not socialized into the politics of bargaining or the give and take of parliamentary politics. A decade ago, he was a professor in the faculty of economics at one of Quito’s elite private universities, Universidad San Francisco de Quito. After the overthrow of Gutierrez in April 2005, Correa was appointed minister of economy and finance in President Alfredo Palacio’s administration. He quickly became the Palacio government’s most controversial figure. Young, charismatic and sure of himself, he used his office as a bully pulpit for denouncing neoliberalism and showed his independence by virulently opposing a free trade agreement with the U.S. and taking on the International Monetary Fund to demand a renegotiation of Ecuador’s external debt.
After leaving office, Correa organized the Movimiento Alianza Pais (the Alliance for a Proud and Sovereign Homeland, or MPAIS) in November 2005. Correa framed the subsequent 2006 general elections as a populist confrontation between good and evil: the honest citizenry, embodied in his persona, confronting corrupt politicians. To show his commitment to turning the page on traditional politics, he abstained from running candidates for the Congress. Instead he promised to shut it down and to convene a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution.
Correa’s anti-party populist rhetoric was compelling because most Ecuadorians demanded a populist solution to the crisis of political representation. During the demonstrations that ended with the ousting of President Gutierrez in April 2005, Ecuadorians cried “Que se vayan todos!” (Throw them all out!). They were convinced that political parties were responsible for the corruption and other political and economic problems that plagued the country. In opinion polls taken in 2006, Ecuadorians’ confidence in their country’s political parties was the lowest of any Latin American country. Because they perceived the struggle as being between the citizenry and politicians, they were receptive to Correa’s message, which appealed to Ecuadorians of all backgrounds who felt disenfranchised by the political system.
Correa’s first act as president was to fulfill his promise to convene a referendum authorizing a Constituent Assembly with “full powers” tasked with the re-founding of the nation. Congress, controlled by traditional parties and without any representatives of Correa’s movement, threatened to halt the proposed referendum. But after securing key institutional supporters in the Electoral Tribunal Board (TSE) and the Constitutional Tribunal (TC), Correa managed to push it through, disqualifying 57 legislators opposed to the constitutional assembly in the process. He then went on to win the April 2007 referendum, with 82 percent of the electorate voting in favor of a new Constituent Assembly.
Correa’s successful confrontation with the political establishment at the beginning of his term enhanced his image as an uncompromising leader with the guts to renovate decaying political institutions. Not surprisingly, in September 2007, Correa’s movement secured a majority of 80 out of 130 seats in the voting for the Constituent Assembly.
The first act of the assembly was to assume not only full constituent powers, but also legislative functions, ratifying Correa as president and sending the previously elected Congress to a recess. With this mandate, Correa decapitated Ecuador’s traditional political parties, which had now lost Congress as an institution from which to oppose his administration. Correa appointed officials sympathetic to his project to replace political adversaries in institutions of accountability, such as the comptroller and the ombudsman. Meanwhile, the assembly-ratified members of the Supreme Court of Justice sat silently while Correa dismantled the liberal framework of democracy.
The process of writing the new constitution was supposed to be participatory. The Constituent Assembly organized 10 roundtables, met 1,500 civil society delegations and processed more than 1,000 proposals for constitutional changes from civil society, political parties and individual citizens. But Correa played the role of final arbiter, overruling one proposal by indigenous groups to make Kichwa an official language, another from environmentalists to forbid open-pit mining operations and still others from feminists to guarantee abortion and gay rights.
The new constitution of 2008 strengthened the executive branch, allowed for presidential re-election for an additional four-year term, subjugated the legislative branch by placing restrictions on its powers of oversight and established a system of control over civil society. With a defeated opposition and an absolute majority in the legislative branch, Correa proceeded to restructure the Supreme Court in 2009 and again in 2011, packing all institutions of control and accountability with people loyal to the president.
The traditional parties were never able to regroup after Correa’s successful and devastating attacks at the beginning of his term. Some, like the Democratic Left and the more conservative Popular Democracy, were dissolved, while several individual politicians, like Jaime Nebot of the right-wing Social Christian Party, successfully retreated to local politics. The older generation of politicians, like former President Gutierrez, was joined by newcomers, such as Guillermo Lasso, a banker who led a renovated right unconnected to traditional parties, and Mauricio Rodas, a young technocrat. But instead of creating a unified counterweight to Correa, the old and new guard competed among themselves for leadership of what had become an increasingly dispersed political opposition.
Winning Elections: Populism and Socioeconomic Redistribution
Correa’s movement used two strategies to consolidate its hegemony. The first was to employ permanent political campaigns and frequent elections. Since Correa came to power in 2007, he has convened six elections, including two presidential elections in 2009 and 2013. By constantly campaigning, he kept alive the populist myth of the people confronting powerful elites. And if the process of voting was clean, the political environment was skewed in Correa’s favor. Left-wing presidential candidate Alberto Acosta compared the 2013 elections to playing a soccer match on a tilted field, with a referee paid off by the other team. This was no exaggeration, as the head of the National Electoral Council was a close Correa ally, and other key institutions were in the hands of Correa sympathizers. For example, General Prosecutor Galo Chiriboga was previously Correa’s ambassador to Spain, and the head of the Judicial Council, Gustavo Jalkh, had previously worked as Correa’s private secretary.
Correa framed the 2013 election as a referendum on his administration. Thanks to electoral engineering, such as the reintroduction of the D’Hondt seat allocation method—known for favoring large parties and coalitions—and the creation of new electoral districts, he was able to convert slightly better than 50 percent of the vote into control of 100 out of 131 seats in the 2013-2017 National Assembly. With Ecuador’s political future once again resting firmly in the hands of Correa and his lieutenants, they voted to once again change the constitution, this time to allow for Correa’s permanent re-election.
The second strategy Correa used to consolidate power was to pursue strongly redistributive economic policies, fulfilling his promise to roll back neoliberalism in the country. Spending on social programs increased from 5 percent of GDP in 2006 to 9.85 percent in 2011, and the minimum wage was raised from $170 to $240 per month. The government continues to subsidize the price of electricity for the poor, as well as gasoline and natural gas for domestic consumption. The human development bonus—a cash transfer program for those in the lower 40 percent of income distribution, as well as mothers of young children, the elderly and the disabled—improved the income, health and education of the poorest Ecuadorians. The number of beneficiaries of this program doubled between 2006 and January 2012 to about 2 million recipients.
Poverty had started to decline before Correa took power, dropping from 49 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2006. Under Correa, it was further reduced to 29 percent in 2011. Inequality also declined, with the Gini coefficient reduced from 50.4 in 2006 to 47.0 in 2011.
These policies have been implemented in ways that maximize their political benefit. Ethnographic studies show that social programs, for example, are used to make beneficiaries feel personally obligated to Correa. One indigenous woman from Tixan in the province of Chimborazo reported to anthropologist Luis Tuaza, “Today I am grateful to God and to President Correa. I have the cash transfer to buy food, pay for electricity and can buy a little something for my kids.” Another woman corroborated, “Thanks to the president I get $35.” One respondent summarized the feelings of reciprocity that beneficiaries feel toward Correa: “The government takes care of us, we have to be grateful.”
Correa’s economic policies through 2013 were buoyed by high oil prices, with the price of petroleum increasing from $52 a barrel in 2006 to $98 in 2013; petroleum represents 53 percent of the nation’s total exports. Correa further boosted government revenues by raising the royalty tax on windfall profits from 50 percent to 99 percent. But while Correa’s redistribution of the extraordinary windfall revenues reduced inequality, it did not affect other measures of income and property concentrations. Fernando Martin, a professor of economics at the Latin American Faculty for the Social Sciences, reports that the country’s wealthiest economic groups increased their share of GDP from 32.5 percent in 2003 to 44 percent in 2010.
In addition, Correa’s state-centered model of development is highly dependent on the price of oil. Now, declining prices—along with a stronger dollar, which Ecuador adopted as its national currency in 2000, making Ecuadorian exports less competitive—are likely to lead to sluggish growth rates and to jeopardize the future of his social programs.
In an interview, economist Alberto Acosta says that in order to deal with a prolonged economic crisis, the government would need to re-establish control over its monetary policy, reversing the dollarization of the economy. “Technically, it is uncomplicated,” he says. “Yet it requires the political will of a head of state concerned with the well-being of future generations, and not on winning the next election.”
Co-Opting, Repressing and Controlling Social Movements and NGOs
To understand Correa’s hegemony, it is important to note that he came to power during a period of weakness for Ecuadorian social movements. In the 1990s, Ecuador had the strongest indigenous movement in the Americas, one that led the resistance to neoliberalism and actively participated in the removal of two presidents, Bucaram and Mahuad. However, by 2005 the indigenous movement was in crisis, and its capacity to stage sustained collective action had diminished substantially.
The largest indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), along with elements of its political party, Pachakutik, took part along with then-Col. Gutierrez in a failed coup in January 2000. Later, they served under Gutierrez’s elected government. By 2006, Pachakutik was considered by many citizens to be just another traditional political party, and its candidate in that year’s presidential election, Luis Macas, got only 2.2 percent of the vote.
Historically, conflicts between the Ecuadorian government and CONAIE were rooted in strong disagreements over mineral extraction. That did not change under Correa, who as president consistently asserted that “the main dangers to our political project, after defeating the right in elections, are the infantile left, environmentalists and Indianists.” Correa saw mining as the country’s future and proposed to use revenues from natural resources to alleviate poverty. He repeatedly said, “We cannot be beggars sitting in a sack of gold.” For their part, the indigenous movement and ecologists argued that the new constitution’s overarching goal of “sumak kawsay”—meaning “the good life” or “living well” in Kichwa—required a rejection of mineral extraction and demanded alternative development strategies that were more respectful of both humans and the environment.
To deter indigenous and other groups from protesting its development strategy, the Correa government has resorted to “lawfare,” according to Manuela Picq, professor of international relations at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Over 200 peasant-indigenous activists face accusations of terrorism for resisting mineral resource extraction. Meanwhile, several high-profile leaders of social movements have also been prosecuted and sentenced for similar charges, the most prominent being Pepe Acacho, a Shuar leader and deputy of the Pachakutik party, Mery Zamora, a leader of the teachers’ union, and several leaders of the student movement.
In a bold and controversial move to regulate civil society and NGOs, the government created legislation that requires all organizations of civil society to register with the state. Executive Decree 16, enacted in June 2013, also gave the government authority to sanction organizations from deviating from the objectives for which they were constituted, for engaging in politics and for interfering in public policies in a way that contravenes internal and external security or disturbs public peace.
Several groups of civil society unsuccessfully filed petitions with the Constitutional Court to overturn Decree 16. They then took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the Organization of American States (OAS). Despite internal and external pressure, Correa did not back down. To set an example, in December 2013 his administration shut down the international environmentalist NGO Pachamama Alliance for, according to the government, deviating from the organization’s original goals and interfering with public policy and security.
Correa’s government tapped the divisions of the indigenous movement by simultaneously co-opting some of their mid-level leaders and repressing the movement’s most vocal critics. The government also created parallel social movement organizations from the top down and re-activated defunct indigenous organizations, such as the Federation of Ecuadorian Indians (FEI). Meanwhile, leaders of smaller rival organizations used the conflicts between CONAIE and Correa as an opportunity to strengthen their own positions.
Despite electoral defeats and demobilization, indigenous and other social movements have not passively accepted Correa’s policies. Indigenous organizations vowed to resist open-pit mining and the exploitation of oil in national parks. It remains to be seen whether CONAIE and other social movements will be able to rebuild their strength to lead widespread collective action against Correa’s resource-driven development policies.
Colonizing the Public Sphere
When Correa was elected in 2006, the structure of the media industry reflected Ecuador’s regional fragmentation. As opposed to Brazil, Mexico or Argentina, where media empires dominate the market, Ecuador’s pattern of media ownership was dispersed. Notwithstanding some interconnections, the media industry comprised 17 regionally based family groups. Moreover, these economic groups were limited mostly to controlling just a few outlets.
Like other Latin American countries, the Ecuadorian media has a tradition of advocacy reporting. Not surprisingly, a number of journalists took openly partisan positions during the 2006 presidential election, with coverage on balance being more favorable to Correa. Twenty-eight percent of all television news coverage cast a positive light on Correa, compared to 13 percent for his rival Alvaro Noboa. Of all opinion pieces and newspaper coverage, 41 percent favored Correa, compared to 34 percent for Noboa.
After an initial honeymoon period, Correa’s administration soon went to war against privately owned media. Fundamedios, an NGO that monitors freedom of the press, reported 597 government attacks on the media since 2008.
According to Correa, “the media have always been one of the de facto powers that have dominated Latin American countries,” with journalists simply reproducing what the owners of media outlets dictate to them. Now, he has asserted, because the few oligarchic families that control the Ecuadorian media have lost old privileges due to his policies, they have mounted campaigns to discredit his and other leftist regimes in the region.
Correa has justified his efforts to regulate content by arguing that information is a public good in private hands. In order to counteract what he perceived as unfair attacks by the privately owned media on his administration, Correa used a five-prong strategy.
First, the state seized media properties, such that it now controls a conglomerate that includes the two most-watched TV stations, as well as several radio stations and newspapers. However, because Ecuador lacks a public media tradition, and because the Correa government does not differentiate its interests from those of the public, these outlets were put in the service of Correa’s administration.
The second strategy was direct communication with the citizenry. Correa became a familiar figure in the daily life of Ecuadorians, constantly appearing on television and radio to explain his policies and attack his enemies. Meanwhile, his administration used mandatory national broadcasts that all media stations are required to transmit. He created his own radio and television program, Enlace Ciudadano (Citizens’ Connection or Citizen’s Ties), broadcast every Saturday morning by all state-run media and most privately owned radio stations to publicize the accomplishments of his government, to challenge media reports of corruption and abuse of power and to attack the opposition.
Correa’s third strategy was to use libel laws and legal proceedings to intimidate and try to silence critical journalists and newspaper owners. One of the most notorious cases, reported worldwide, involved an editor and three board members of the largest privately owned newspaper, El Universo, who were convicted of defamation and sentenced to three-year prison terms for publishing an editorial entitled, “No to Lies”; the paper was also fined $40 million. In another case, Correa sued investigative journalists Juan Carlos Calderon and Christian Zurita for libel after they uncovered detailed allegations of corruption concerning the president’s brother. The president demanded $2 million in damages from the journalists. After they were promptly convicted, Correa pardoned them.
In the absence of impartial domestic legal venues in which to defend themselves from such attacks, a group of Ecuadorian journalists and owners of private media outlets took their case to the IACHR and requested precautionary measures for the accused journalists. But the Ecuadorian government did not accept the legitimacy of this request and threatened to abandon the Inter-American System of Human Rights.
Correa’s fourth strategy for taming the press involved state regulation of privately owned media. In 2013, the National Assembly created a board tasked with monitoring and regulating what the media could publish. According to the administration, such a regulatory mechanism was needed in order to assure that the private media delivered information objectively. They equated privately owned media to privately owned banks to justify state regulation, while ignoring the danger of censorship such regulation creates. Any attempt at watchdog journalism was viewed with suspicion.
Finally, the state set out to financially strangle the privately owned media, whose relatively small profit margins made owners of newspapers and radio stations quite vulnerable to such pressure. The constitution of 2008, for example, prohibited bankers from owning media outlets. In 2011, media owners were banned from having stocks in any other type of enterprise. The state raised the price of paper; stopped using government advertisements in newspapers and radio stations that criticized their policies; and pressured big business to reduce their marketing in critical media outlets. These strategies combined to suffocate some outlets, such as Diario Hoy, a center-left newspaper founded in 1982 that went bankrupt in August 2014.
Correa’s Foreign Policy Orientation
Correa framed his approach to foreign policy as part of a continental or even global movement: so-called 21st-century socialism, built on notions of national sovereignty, a critique of U.S. imperialism and an attempt to create alternative multinational Latin American institutions without U.S. influence. In 2009, Ecuador joined the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), which was founded by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2004 as an alternative to U.S.-led trade partnerships in the region. Correa searched for closer diplomatic and trade relationships with Russia, Iran and especially China. His government aimed to replace the OAS, which he claimed was dominated by the U.S., with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which excludes the U.S. and Canada. With his encouragement, the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), created in 2008 to promote deeper integration on the continent, moved to Ecuador. His government became bolder on the international stage, protecting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and offering asylum to U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Unlike in the past, when the U.S. directly intervened in shaping Ecuador’s and other Latin American nations’ policies, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration kept a low profile and abstained from directly confronting Correa’s government. For example, the U.S. quietly left the military base of Manta when its lease was not renewed in 2009. In 2011, Correa declared U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges persona non grata and expelled her after WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables in which she denounced the corruption of Ecuador’s chief of police. Obama responded by ousting Ecuador’s ambassador to Washington. In mid-2012, both countries named new ambassadors, but the relationship remains tense.
Despite Obama’s measured responses to tensions with Ecuador, Correa has argued that U.S.-dominated multinational institutions such as the OAS have orchestrated a campaign against his and other left-leaning governments in the region. In a long interview with the New Left Review, Correa asserted that it was time that Latin Americans moved “from the Washington Consensus to the consensus without Washington.”
Correa has also used his foreign policy to challenge left-wing criticism of his government and to export an anti-imperialist image. The Yasuni initiative to leave Amazon oil reserves underground in exchange for monetary compensation from rich nations was meant to brandish his pro-environmental credentials, even as his administration was opening the country to open-pit mining and promoting “responsible” exploitation of oil inside the same Yasuni natural reserve in order to alleviate poverty. Similarly, his decision to shelter Assange can be seen as an effort to counter allegations that he was restricting freedom of the press at home.
Correa has used the instruments of liberal democracy like elections, the National Assembly, the legal system and the media to confront and weaken his rivals, in the process undermining the liberal framework of democracy. Ecuador’s political opposition, social movements, civil society organizations and journalists have not had the organizational resources to challenge his populist project.
This organizational weakness was exacerbated by the fact that Correa always carefully chose the timing of his attacks. His first targets, the delegitimized traditional political parties in Congress, had already won the animosity of most of the population. As a result, only a few journalists and liberal intellectuals were outraged in 2007 when the Constituent Assembly sent the recently elected Congress to a recess, arbitrarily assumed legislative powers and put loyal followers in charge of all institutions of accountability. Most citizens applauded Correa’s actions and regarded him as a savior who was freeing them from decaying and corrupt institutions under the grip of parties that served foreign interests.
Correa’s administration then turned journalists and “the bourgeois press” into enemies of the president’s revolutionary project. In his weekly TV appearances, Correa regularly stigmatized journalists as “Mafiosi, savage beasts and idiots who publish trash.” Prominent talk show hosts and news anchors lost their jobs, while Correa’s loyal followers attacked and insulted journalists. Some private media venues were forced out of business by his administration, while others adapted to an increasingly unfavorable environment for the freedom of the press.
When Correa targeted the leaders of social movements, he painted them as special interests that only sought the benefit of their group and as individuals manipulated by foreign NGOs. With all major national institutions, including the courts, in the hands of Correa’s lieutenants, critics did not have any other recourse but to take their grievances to transnational civil society and supranational institutions. Correa then used the appeals from abroad defending journalists and social movement activists to claim that Ecuador’s opposition is a puppet of the U.S. and other foreign governments. He has disavowed the old U.S.-controlled international order, vowing to construct a new one.
Correa has ruled during an oil boom, the likes of which Ecuador has not seen since the 1970s, when oil money first allowed the country to modernize and become a predominantly urban society. The government has increased the number of recipients and the amount of conditional cash transfers that worked well to alleviate poverty and to create loyalties among the very poor. The middle class benefited from the expansion of state employment as well as the follow-on benefits of the oil boom. Economic elites profited from his policies and did not feel the urge to resist his populist government. Indeed, despite rhetorical attacks on some bankers and entrepreneurs, Correa did not threaten the economic interests of elites, which might explain the opposition’s disarray.
The outcome of Correa’s populist polarization and confrontation has been the creation of a soft authoritarian government, a process that was facilitated by a context of decaying political institutions and weak social movements that could not resist his policies, but also by the revenues from the oil boom. The government has responded to the recent sharp decline in the price of oil by raising taxes on imports, borrowing money from China and promising incentives for private investment. So far, Correa has not cut social spending, knowing that it would jeopardize his re-election.
Despite his current popularity, Correa is a giant with feet of clay. His populist revolution is highly dependent on his persona. He has not built a true political party, and the different factions and interest groups of his movement are held together by his charisma.
The oil price drop is leading to more protests by the different constituencies harmed by Correa’s policies. So far, the different opposition groups have not formed a common front against Correa. But even if they join forces, they will confront a charismatic leader who controls all state institutions. Worse still, Correa’s soft authoritarian legacy might last longer than his rule. For even after his eventual departure, Ecuadorians will still struggle with the laws and regulations that Correa passed to control civil society and the public sphere.
Carlos de la Torre is a professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of “Populist Seduction in Latin America” and the editor of “The Promise and Perils of Populism: Global Perspectives” and, with Cynthia J. Arnson, of “Latin American Populism in the Twenty-First Century.”