It wasn’t so long ago that British readers, on hearing about the incompetence and corruption of Latin America’s political leaders, could gasp, despair or smirk, depending on their own political leanings and the leaders in question, and rest assured that, for all the United Kingdom’s problems, they were immune to such folly. Institutions were stable, the rule of law was unshakeable, the economy was reliably solid and, besides, the good old Brits, born with an innate common sense that was the envy of the rest of the world, would never fall for such blatant chicanery. Those days are no more.
In Latin America, however, charlatans have long been part of the political landscape. From Mexico’s caudillos
to the small-town sheriffs who ran much of Brazil’s impoverished northern half, to the military juntas that tortured and killed with impunity for much of the 1970s, the region’s familiarity with autocrats and dictators is as depressing as it is grim.