Did you know? Latin America has had 8 presidents of Arab origin

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According to Al-Ahram, over 17 million people in Latin America are thought to be of Arab origin. Other estimations calculate that Latin Americans of Arab descent could represent up to 5% of the region, or 25-30 million people. Most of them are descendants of immigrants who came from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, during the first decades of the 20th century.

One thing is certain: Latin America hosts the largest Arab diaspora in the world. By comparison, the Arab minority in Europe (including Arab immigrants and Europeans of Arab origin) was estimated at about 6 million in 2010.

Latin Americans of Arab descent have been disproportionately successful. Nowhere in the world more than in Latin America have the Arab migrants been able to thrive and be so successful. The names of Carlos Slim in Mexico, Miguel Facussé in Honduras or José Said in Chile are synonyms of economic power and political influence.

However, Latin American-Arabs are not only well represented among the economic elites of the region; they are also deeply integrated in the social fabric and political life of their host countries. One of the most striking evidence of this is the fact that over the last 60 years, 8 Latin American presidents had Arab origin:

Julio César Turbay, President of Colombia from 1978 to 1982 (Lebanese)

Elías Antonio Saca, President of El Salvador from 2004 to 2009 (Palestinian)

Abdalá Bucaram, President of Ecuador from August 1996 to February 1997 (Lebanese)

Jamil Mahuad, President of Ecuador from August 1998 to January 2000 (Lebanese)

Carlos Saúl Menem, President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999 (Syrian)

Carlos Flores Facussé, President of Honduras from 1998 to 2002 (Palestinian)

Jacobo Majluta Azar, President of Dominican Republic from July 4, 1982 to August 16, 1982 (Lebanese)

Julio Teodoro Salem, Head of State of Ecuador from 29 May 1944 to 31 May 1944 (Lebanese)

Except from the last two, all were democratically elected by universal and direct suffrage.

One of our reader also mentioned Said Musa, two term Prime Minister of Belize, who is the son of a Palestinian immigrant.

The election of presidents with a non-western background is particularly meaningful when considering that all these countries have presidential systems of government. As underlined by Miguel Carreras, presidential elections in Latin America are all the more central that “voters know that the reality of power lies in the hands of the president”.

Such signs of trust show that Latin Americans of Arab descent have largely overcome ethnic discriminations against them. Can you imagine a president with Arab origins in Europe or the US?

It is worth noting that only 4 politicians of Indigenous origin[1] have been elected as President in Latin America so far…

[1] Benito Juárez, a politician of Zapotec origin from Oaxaca who served five terms as President of Mexico from 1858 to 1872; Alejandro Toledo, of Yunga heritage, President of Peru from 1990 to 2000; Evo Morales, of Aymara origin, President of Bolivia since 2006; and Ollanta Humala, of Quechua origin, President of Peru since 2011

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