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- The Fake Outsider in Latin American Politics
What is an outsider to politics?
Someone who is not involved in politics and never has been, right?
Well, you would think so.
But, similar to the US, you sometimes have common people and mainstream media outlets claiming that certain politicians are outsiders when running for office.
In the US, two classic examples of that were Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
While Bernie Sanders was basically a nobody to most people before announcing his 2016 campaign and even had Jon Stewart joke about his announcement as you can see here, he was no outsider in my opinion.
Sure, he wasn't in the leadership of the Democratic Party but he was in politics for over 2 decades as you can see here.
"Bernard Sanders (born September 8, 1941) is an American politician and activist who has served as the junior United States senator from Vermont since 2007. He was the U.S. representative for the state's at-large congressional district from 1991 to 2007. Sanders is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history. He has a close relationship with the Democratic Party, having caucused with House and Senate Democrats for most of his congressional career. Officially an independent, he is often seen as a leader of the democratic socialist movement. Sanders unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States in 2016 and 2020, finishing in second place in both campaigns. Before his election to Congress, he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont."
So, despite being in politics for over basically 3 decades, he is an outsider as outlets have called him like you can see here.
Then we have Trump that has also been called an outsider like you can see here.
Despite being supposedly an outsider though, Trump has a long history of giving large amounts of money to politicians during their campaigns like you can see here (that likely would care about his opinions more than the average Joe that can only give 5 bucks).
Has gotten favors from politicians before like you can see here.
And had no problem having a good party with the Clintons like you can see here (or like how he hung out with other important elected officials in NY and elsewhere probably).
So how is he an outsider?
But, to be fair, it's not just people in the US who are confused as to what an outsider is.
It's a common misconception that you see in Latin America also among both the voters and the mainstream outlets like back home in the US.
Let's get into some examples briefly.
The Fake Outsider of Latin American Politics
First, we have AMLO of Mexico.
As you can see here, he was classified as an outsider before becoming President.
But he was also very active in Mexican politics during the 2006 and 2012 elections.
Though, to be fair, there is an argument to be made that he was kept out of winning 2006 through fraud like you can see here.
Despite that, I wouldn't say that makes him an outsider as he has been a very important figure in Mexican politics over the last few decades.
And, on top of that, he was also Head of the Government in Mexico City from 2000 to 2005 (among other involvement he's had in one way or the other in Mexican politics).
If you want more examples of his involvement, let's go to his Wikipedia page here (which, as a side point, I'd argue is a good beginners tool to deciding if someone is an outsider where we just have to see if his Wiki page has basically pages of info about his time in politics or not):
"He began his political career in 1976 as a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His first public position was as director of the Indigenous Institute of Tabasco in 1977, where he promoted the addition of books in indigenous languages and the project of the Chontal ridge. In 1989, he joined the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), becoming the party's 1994 candidate for Governor of Tabasco, and national leader between 1996 and 1999. In 2000, he was elected Head of Government of Mexico City. During tenure, his crime, infrastructure and social spending policies made him a popular figure on the Mexican left. In 2004, his state immunity from prosecution was removed after refusing to cease construction on land allegedly expropriated by his predecessor, Rosario Robles. This legal process lasted for a year and ended with López Obrador maintaining his right to run for office.
López Obrador was nominated presidential candidate by the Coalition for the Good of All during the 2006 elections, where he was narrowly defeated by the PAN candidate Felipe Calderón. While the Federal Electoral Tribunal noted a number of irregularities, it denied López Obrador's request for a general recount, which sparked protests across the country. In 2011 he founded Morena, a civil association and later political party. He was candidate for the Progressive Movement coalition in the 2012 elections, won by the Commitment to Mexico coalition candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. In 2012, he left the PRD after protesting the party's signing of the Pact for Mexico, and joined Morena. As part of the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition, López Obrador was elected president after a landslide victory in the 2018 general election."
Second, we have Gustavo Petro of Colombia. He recently won the Presidency for Colombia in 2022 and is, as you can read here, described as an outsider.
How's that Wikipedia page, Jack?
Well, you can check it out here!
"At 17 years of age, Petro became a member of the guerrilla group 19th of April Movement, which later evolved into the M-19 Democratic Alliance, a political party in which he was elected to be a member of the Chamber of Representatives in the 1991 Colombian parliamentary election. He served as a senator as a member of the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party following the 2006 Colombian parliamentary election with the second-largest vote. In 2009, he resigned his position to run in the 2010 Colombian presidential election, finishing fourth in the race.
Due to ideological disagreements with the leaders of the PDA, he founded the Humane Colombia movement to compete for the mayoralty of Bogotá. On 30 October 2011, he was elected mayor in the local elections, a position he assumed on 1 January 2012. In the first round of the 2018 Colombian presidential election, he came second with over 25% of the votes on 27 May, and lost in the run-off election on 17 June."
In short, he was a member of the Chamber of Representatives from 1991 to 1994 and 1998 to 2006. He was also the Mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota from 2012 to 2015. And was a Senator from 2006 to 2010 and 2018 to 2022.
Outsider he is not.
Third, we have Bolsonaro of Brazil.
As you can see here, he was once considered an outsider before becoming President.
Here's some Wiki info on him from this here:
"....a Brazilian politician and retired military officer who has been the 38th president of Brazil since 1 January 2019. He was elected in 2018 as a member of the conservative Social Liberal Party before cutting ties with it. From 1991 to 2018, Bolsonaro served in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, representing the state of Rio de Janeiro."
Before 1991, he was also the Councillor of Rio de Janeirofrom 1989 to 1991.
So we have a guy who has been involved in Brazilian politics in one of Brazil's most important cities for almost 3 decades before becoming President.
Not only that but he was also a military officer and was in the military from 1973 to 1988.
I'd consider that important too given the role and importance the military has in Latin American democracies (or dictatorships as Brazil is aware of).
Any Real Outsiders in Latin American Politics?
Those are just a few examples of people who claim are outsiders and where those claims seem more realistic.
First, we have Pedro Castillo of Peru.
After doing through his Wikipedia page, I'd call him an outsider as you can check it out here.
As far as I can tell, this is the extent of his political career before becoming President:
"In 2002, Castillo unsuccessfully ran for the mayorship of Anguía as the representative of Alejandro Toledo's centre-left party Possible Peru. He served as a leading member of the party in Cajamarca from 2005 until the party's dissolution in 2017 following its poor results in the 2016 Peruvian general election. Following his leadership during the teachers' strike, numerous political parties in Peru approached Castillo to promote him as a congressional candidate, though he refused and instead decided to run for the presidency after encouragement from unions."
To some degree, I can see how someone might see him as an outsider given he was unsuccessful at trying to get into politics in 2002 and that he never was a mayor of some huge capital city.
Plus, if you read the rest of his Wiki, he grew up poor as fuck apparently and was never part of the elite upper class.
On the flip side, it isn't like he was a literal nobody in politics before coming to the Presidency as he was trying to be active since 2002 and because he apparently was some leading member of a party for over a decade.
Still, I wouldn't say necessarily any political involvement at all makes you not an outsider.
Like I hinted at, I do give weight to what exactly you were doing in politics.
Like AMLO being a mayor of the capital for some time or Bolsonaro being active in politics successfully for nearly 3 decades in one of Brazil's biggest cities.
So I'd say Castillo passes as "outsider enough."
Second, we have Gabriel Boric. The President of Chile.
The information from his Wiki page can be seen here:
"Boric studied in the Faculty of Law at the University of Chile, and was the president of the University of Chile Student Federation from 2011 to 2012. Although he completed his studies at law school, he never graduated. As a student representative, he became one of the leading figures of the 2011–2013 Chilean student protests. Boric was twice elected to the Chamber of Deputies representing the Magallanes and Antarctic district, first as an independent candidate in 2013 and then in 2017 as part of the Broad Front, a left-wing coalition he created with several other parties. He is a founding member of Social Convergence, which was formed in 2018 and is one of the constituent parties of Broad Front.
During the 2019 civil unrest in Chile, Boric was one of the politicians negotiating the agreement that paved the way for a referendum to change the Constitution."
From this information, it seems like the dude was half an activist and half a politician.
A little bit like Bernie Sanders but without the 3 decades of being in a political office.
Instead, we just have him being in the Chamber of Deputies from 2014 to 2022 where he represented a district in the Magallanes region.
.....Which isn't exactly as important as Santiago.
Still, he did have 8 years in office before becoming President.
Eh, I can see why someone would doubt it given he had almost a decade into his political career but it doesn't ring the same as being a politician of the capital or having 3 decades behind you.
Third, you have former Guatemalan President, Jimmy Morales.
Here is his Wikipedia page.
As you can see here, some also saw him as an outsider.
Here is everything about his political career before becoming the President in 2016 (to which he was known as a comedian beforehand of all things):
"In 2011, he ran as mayoral candidate in Mixco in the Guatemala City suburbs for the small right-wing Action for National Development party. He placed third.
In 2013, Morales joined the small National Convergence Front (FCN/Nation), and became its Secretary-General."
He tried to and failed to get into politics in 2011 and only had 3 years seemingly in politics before becoming President.
Sounds like an outsider.
Though, interesting enough, it seems that he might not be 100% of an outsider given his connections that supposedly helped him win as you can read here:
"Lo mismo sucede con Jimmy Morales. Según un informe elaborado por el equipo de El Observador, se especifica que uno de los que comenzó a hablar a favor de la anti política fue Philip Chicola, Director de Gestión del CACIF (cámara de empresarios), contribuyendo a fortalecer una opinión pública a favor de este tipo de perfil –y de la imagen de Morales directamente– en diferentes medios de comunicación.
A esto debemos sumar algunos datos sobre el partido político que acoge a Morales, Frente de Convergencia Nacional, formalizado como tal hacia 2007. Entre sus fundadores encontramos un grupo de ex militares asociados directamente a la contrainsurgencia, integrantes de AVEMILGUA (Asociación de Veteranos Militares de Guatemala), empresarios y políticos vinculados a posiciones de extrema derecha y anticomunistas (El Observador, 2015: 8-10)."
From my understanding, it seems to claim that Morales did have a lot of insider support from political, media and business elites who wanted to craft his image of being an outsider and win the Presidency.
Which, above all, I think goes to show that, for obvious reasons, most outsider candidates that you think of likely do need a bit of insider support from established political parties, media and so on to have a more solid chance of winning.
It very well might be the case that your favorite outsider candidate who doesn't even have any political experience in office is still getting support from some insiders.
Therefore, not entirely an outsider.
So What is an Outsider?
Truth be told, I think most people who get into politics are not really outsiders.
At least not 100%.
The case of Morales in Guatemala shows how tricky it can be to be a true outsider with absolutely no insider support or experience and still win the Presidency.
Maybe not impossible but very difficult nonetheless.
Moving on from that anyhow, let's contemplate what it could possibly mean to be an outsider just very briefly with some thoughts to consider.
How can you be a true outsider if you have been holding office for some time?
Granted, if it's just been a year or two, then you're not really that deep into politics.
Of course, some might consider also the importance of the office they held and if they actually had much influence over the political party they belong to.
Clearly, Nancy Pelosi is way less of an outsider than Bernie Sanders because, while both have a lot of time in office, one dominates the political party they are both in way more than the other.
Similarly, being the mayor of a capital city is more important and inside the politics of a country than being someone involved in politics in some no name area of the country.
And, to be fair, I don't think it has to be just a matter of if you held office or not but if you've been involved in politics in other meaningful ways that would give you exposure to how politics works in your country and if you have strong connections.
For example, David Axelrod is absolutely not an outsider in American politics.
There are other ways that someone can have a huge connection to politics than being the man who got elected to office.
Next, we have the poor or rich factor.
While being rich doesn't necessarily make you an insider, I'd argue coming from a poor background does add to your "outsider" status a little bit.
As someone who is poor, you simply have less capability of being deep inside the political machine due to less opportunities in life.
But, just because you came from a humble background, doesn't mean you don't eventually become an insider to the politics of whatever area through years or decades of experience.
Next, we have those who never held office but bribed politicians through donation groups or whatever.
If you are bribing politicians to do things for you or your company, you are never an outsider.
You literally go to their wine parties, laugh at the same jokes, participate in corruption, etc.
It's ironic as fuck to me when someone claims that such a politician is an outsider only because they never held office and so that is why we need to elect them to "get rid of the corrupt insiders" when said "outsider" was literally involved in the game of corruption by buying politicians.
Are you dense?
Quite frankly, I have a hard time imagining that a good deal of the wealthiest in any society who run major businesses are not somehow more on the inside than the average Joe.
For various reasons, including all the stories of bribes having to be done to get shit to work down here in Latin America.
But let's leave that topic alone for now.
Finally, like in the case of Bolsonaro, I do bring up the importance of military service as to deciding if you are an insider or outsider.
Especially given how important the military is in Latin American politics for deciding who is President in times of political crisis or during dictatorships especially.
I don't think though just being in the military makes you an insider.
Like if you were a solider for a few years.
But if you were involved higher up in the command structure, I'd assume you are not entirely 100% of an outsider.
Especially once you talk about those who are REALLY on the top that make big decisions of national security and who are much more familiar with inside, classified information about the government.
So your "insider" status is influenced by just how close to "the top" you are, what classified information you know, if you ever have to report or interact with those in political office, what role you have on deciding national security matters, etc.
At any rate, it is what it is.
There might be other ways to consider just how "insider" or "outsider" a specific politician is in Latin America.
You got some examples I provided that I personally would call more of an outsider in some cases and more of an insider in others.
If you agree or disagree on any of them, let me know in the comments.
Or, if you know of other good examples, write below also.
And follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.
I think you’re right: there are many forms of Power (like wealth and military connections) that preclude one from being a political outsider.
Bernie is unique in that his power base is grassroots and driven by the proletariat, making him a threat to the established power structure, so his “outsider” status comes from his independence from (and indifference to) powerful political Party leaders. Bernie will reliably adhere to his own values; he’s been on message since the 60s.