Convergence / Politics / Vol 3. No. 1

Latinos for Trump!

Aaron Gilbert, Song to the Siren

Image Credit: Aaron Gilbert, Song to the Siren, (2020), 36 x 42 ins. 91.4 x 106.7 cm, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York.

Although Donald Trump began his first electoral campaign by notoriously claiming that Mexicans were rapists, he managed early on to gain significant Latin American and Latinx support. In fact, already in the 2016 election Trump received more support (28%) from these groups than the previous Republican candidate Mitt Romney (27%). While one would have imagined that four years of racist policies that included the abominable grotesquery of jailing children in inhuman conditions would have dampened this relative enthusiasm, the fact is that Latinx support grew significantly. A recent analysis of the 2020 presidential election shows that Trump’s reelection efforts achieved significantly greater success precisely among Latinx and Latin American voters. Or, as a recent analysis of the last election put it, “Biden’s share of Latinos decreased by 8 percentage points compared to Hillary Clinton’s” (Prokop).1 The paradox that the most anti-Latinx and racist president in recent history ended up gaining support precisely among those he clearly despises is surprising, to put it mildly. The following is a set of loose reflections on the reasons for this still minoritarian, but nevertheless significant, support for Trump and the racist politics he represents among Latin American immigrants and their descendants.

It is worth remembering that the history of Latin America, even its recent history, has seen numerous candidates that can be classified as rightists win presidential elections: from Alberto Fujimori in Peru (1990-2000) to Mauricio Macri in Argentina (2015-2019) to Álvaro Uribe 2002-2010) and Iván Duque (2018-) in Colombia, to, more recently, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (2018-). In fact, one can find in these South American politicians many traits later ascribed to Trump. For instance, one could see Fujimori not only as a precursor of Trump in his ability to garner appeal across classes, as well as in his disregard for democratic institutions—he disbanded Congress in1992, and had complete disdain for civil and human rights—but also even as a more successful version of right-wing populism, since in his heyday he had around 60 % support of the electorate, including from much of his country’s intelligentsia. Despite Fujimori having afterwards (2007) been jailed for human rights violations and corruption, this support has not fully melted away. The last two Peruvian elections have seen Keiko Fujimori, his daughter, lose only by a hair in runoff elections. In fact, she is currently the favorite to finally reach power in the second-round elections next June.

Moreover, the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency of Brazil with a clear majority proves that not only conservatism, but in this case explicitly Fascist politics, hold a definite appeal for many south of the US border. Bolsonaro has not only embraced the anti-leftist politics of the Brazilian military dictatorship but also its use of torture and its frequent resort to extrajudicial executions. Moreover, he is an explicit proponent of the most hardcore version of neoliberal economics. Writing a few days before the Brazilian elections, Federico Finchelstein noted “Never in the history of South American dictatorships has there been a candidate as close to Pinochet as Jair Bolsonaro.”2 Although one must remember that there has always been a significant cultural distance between Portuguese speaking Brazil and Spanish-America—the great Brazilian songwriter Caetano Veloso has compared his country’s isolation from its neighbors to that of “an island in the middle of the South Atlantic”—3the fact is that it is difficult to imagine that there is not a similar, though hopefully not as widespread, nostalgia in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay for the rightwing dictatorships of the 1970s, which murdered tens of thousands. Therefore, Peruvian supporters of Fujimori, Colombian conservatives enamored of former President Uribe and current President Duque, Brazilian Bolsonaristas, or any Latin American who longs for the putative firm hand of a Brazilian, Chilean, or Argentine general, could easily find in Trump not only an appealing political figure, but one closer to their political ideals than an advocate of democracy.

As is well-known, Catholicism has been historically the dominant religion in the Luso-Hispanic world, where, despite the aggiornamento of the II Vatican Council (1962-1965) and of Liberation Theology (which had its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s), it helped buttress conservative governments from the 19th century to the present, including the dictatorships of the 1970s. For instance, when one looks at Latin American intellectuals of the early 20th century, one finds that the degree of religiosity (Catholic, of course) becomes predictive of their ultimate sympathy with the fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. However, both in Latin America and the United States, evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and Mormonism have begun to replace Catholicism. While the Catholic faith has been blamed for the social conservatism of many Latin Americans, expressed for instance in opposition to abortion and gay rights, the new faiths are equally if not more clearly aligned with the extreme right. 70 % of evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro in Brazil. The turn towards fundamentalist Protestantism is also characteristic of Latin American immigrants to the US, as Latinxs constitute its fastest growing segments. Moreover, despite some seeing in this a sign that this will lead to a greater degree of political moderation, the fact is that these fundamentalist churches are machines for the constitution of conservative, even reactionary, subjects. In a poll taken after the election, “57% of Latino Protestants approve of Trump’s performance in office, compared with just over a quarter of Latinos who are Catholic (27%). Approval of Trump is lowest among Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated (16%)” (Molina).4

One of the core difficulties faced by Democrats in appealing to Latin American and Latinx voters is their heterogeneity. Not only does the region consist of 20 countries and 14 dependent territories that speak three languages—Spanish, Portuguese, and French—and related creoles, but they are also ethnically different. The Caribbean, with its tense mixtures of Black and white people and culture; Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, with their large proportion of indigenous inhabitants; Argentina and Uruguay, destination for many immigrants from then-impoverished Italy and Eastern Europe– all have different cultural and racial histories. It is not surprising therefore that many feel there is something artificial in being lumped together with groups of people who, from their perspective, have little in common.

In an article about discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, Peruvian writer Gabriela Wiener asked, “What is the best way to make sure that others do not notice how black, indigenous, or Jewish you are? By discriminating against blacks and indigenous people . . . Because being a racist whitens you.”5 While, as Wiener notes, this possibility of asserting one’s whiteness through discrimination is not limited to Peru or Latin America, it is facilitated by Latin American notions of race that, unlike those prevalent in the US, do not follow versions of the one drop rule. Instead, in Latin America, race is seen as not being exclusively determined by ancestry, but also by phenotype, social class, culture and behavior, among other factors. Not only is the region multiracial and multiethnic, but the boundaries between races are porous and always in flux. This fluidity may help explain the fact that in the United States Latinx identity tends to fade over generations.

Proof of Wiener’s insight can be found in the surprising fact that one can find Latinx members even among the most virulent racist political and terrorist groups. Pre-dating the rise of Trumpism, English Only, as indicated by its name, an organization dedicated to establishing English as the official language of the country has had a Chilean immigrant as its president. More relevant to this discussion is the fact that one of the leaders for Latinos for Trump and the Proud Boys is Afro-Cuban.

Be that as it may, assimilated, perhaps even affluent, Latin American immigrants watching the migrants from Central America making their way through Mexico into the United States could just as easily note the differences between themselves and those on the screen, as well as feel threatened by the similarities, whether in skin color or family history, with those newly entering the country. By supporting Trump and thus discrimination against poorer Latinx and Latin Americans, one can cement one’s difference from the social groups seen by the mainstream US — especially conservatives — as a threatening other. Not only skin color, but also class difference, (and even racist behavior itself!), can ultimately reinforce the individual’s claim to whiteness.

Writing about the possibility of developing a coherent anti-imperialist movement in Latin America during the 1920s, José Carlos Mariátegui, the first major Marxist thinker of the region, noted the difficulties raised by the multi-racial and multi-cultural character of the population. However, rather than falling into the trap of pessimistic immobility, he believed that cultural activism and action for concrete political goals—including fighting for land reform, public healthcare, and, more generally, the creation of what today would be called a welfare state—could, in addition to their innate worth, serve to galvanize and overcome divisions among those groups that would benefit. In other words, for Mariátegui, progressive politics was precisely the way to create alliances across races and cultures.6

The history of Latinx and Latin American support for Republican candidates during the 21st century—between a low of 27% to a high of 44 %–seems to indicate that there is minority, though solid, and arguably growing, support for conservatism among naturalized Latin American and Latinx voters that would be recalcitrant even to the most enlightened political activity. However, one could also argue that the recent history of this vote seems to indicate not only that claims to an imaginary cultural homogeneity are problematic, but that negative factors, such as potential dislike for Trump or Trumpism should not be at the core of the democratic effort; And why not? Democratic appeal. Instead, as Mariátegui once argued, the work for progressive politics and policies should be at the core of attempts at political interpellation.


The Election of Pedro Castillo

This July 19, Pedro Castillo, the candidate of Perú Libre (Free Peru) was officially declared the winner of Peru’s runoff presidential elections, which had taken place on June 7. Castillo, who had only received 18.92% of the vote during the first electoral round on April 11, defeated Keiko Fujimori, who had received 13.4 % in April, by the smallest of margins: 44,058 votes. (50.125 % voted for Castillo, while 49.875 for Fujimori). Castillo, inaugurated on July, 28, 2021, the bicentenary of Peru’s independence from Spain, is the first president who has no connection with the country’s economic, political, or cultural elites. A child of illiterate peasants, who studied to become a schoolteacher, and later became a union leader, Castillo is an unapologetic leftist: one of his most successful slogans is “no more poor people in a rich country.” He describes his proposed economic policies as “popular economy with markets,” and speaks for the need to tax corporations and hold them responsible for any environmental damage they may cause. Moreover, the coalition that supported him in the second round of the election includes groups that declare themselves to be Marxist-Leninist. Peru is a country where the memory of the brutal Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s has been weaponized against even the most moderate reform to the neoliberal policies put into place in the 1990s by President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father, currently in jail for “crimes against humanity.” The election of Castillo represents the breakdown of the neoliberal consensus that has until now characterized the country’s politics.

Taking up the banner of democracy, and painting Castillo as another avatar of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, among other supposedly leftist leaders, Keiko Fujimori received the support of the coastal elites, including formerly anti-Fujimori stalwart Mario Vargas Llosa, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. She, in fact, won the vote in Lima, the Northern coast, and much of Amazonia. Support for Castillo came primarily from the southern coast, and the mostly indigenous countryside and Andean regions, despite Castillo not highlighting his indigenous roots; perhaps, because in Peru indigeneity is often linked to culture and language. Castillo hails from a region where Spanish rather than the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara is spoken. Keiko Fujimori’s campaign and supporters have made use of racist anti-indigenous stereotypes against Castillo and his supporters. Castillo’s voters come principally from regions that did not benefit from the economic boom of the last thirty years—Peru has long been one of neoliberalism’s success stories. Moreover, these are also the regions hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in a country that has had the highest death rate from the disease in the world. One must, however, note that opposition to Keiko Fujimori has also been strong among those concerned with human rights and the possibility that she would pardon her father.

The unprecedented delay between the election and the official declaration of Castillo’s victory by the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Electoral Board) was due to Fujimori’s full embrace of Trumpian tactics. Although international observers, such as the U.S. government, The European Union, and The Organization of American States, had praised the integrity of the elections, she claimed that the election was fraudulent without offering any evidence. She contested the validity of about 200,000 of Castillo’s votes, as well as attempting to undermine the electoral results by organizing demonstrations and sit-ins. Her spokespersons, including Vargas Llosa, have written articles, given interviews, and organized events highlighting supposed irregularities in the elections. Retired military, including former President Francisco Morales Bermúdez, as well as supporters of Keiko Fujimori, repeatedly called for a military coup. With only a few exceptions, such as the newspaper La República, print media, radio and TV supported her claims of fraud after the elections, just as they had earlier supported her campaign. Again, following Trumpist tactics, there have been failed attempts by her supporters at storming the governmental palace. After Castillo had been declared the winner by the JNE, Keiko Fujimori paradoxically accepted the decision while still declaring the election “illegitimate.” Given the flaws in the current constitution that makes it easy to depose a president—since 2016 Peru has had four!—and Fujimori’s willingness to do anything to gain power and her indifference to the social and institutional damage she may cause, Castillo has a difficult road ahead not only in achieving his goals but just in staying in power.



1 Andrew Prokop, “A New Report Complicates Simplistic Narratives about Race and the 2020 Election,” 10 May 2021,

2 Federico Finchelstein, “The extremist Bolsonaro: the Very Dangerous Face of Populism in Brazil,” Reset Dialogues on Civilizations 14 Jan 2019

3 Caetano Veloso, Tropical Truth: A History of Music and Revolution in Brazil, Da Capo, 2003.

4 Alejandra Molina, “Poll: Latino Protestants Are More Conservative and Supportive of Trump Than Catholics,” America: The Jesuit Review 2 Dec 2020,

5 Gabriela Wiener, “Ser racista blanquea,” La República 23 Jun 2017.

6 Among many possible sources for Mariátegui’s ideas on these regards see his “Anti-Imperialist Point of View” (1929), “Manifesto of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers to the Peruvian Working Class,” and “Programmatic Principles of the Socialist Party,” included in José Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology, Monthly Review P, 2010.

Tags: , , ,