As the dust settles after the first Democratic debate, it seems election season is officially ramping up, and the whole world can look forward to another action-packed year of good ol’ fashioned American political soap operas. That’s right, for the next 13 months, the mainstream media will follow every up-to-the-minute twist and turn relating to the presidential election with a flair for the dramatic that falls somewhere between celebrity gossip news and Sports Center. But while all of this might often seem like theater, and the candidates like Hollywood A-listers hounded incessantly by nosy news media, what about those politicians who actually were actors at some point in their career?
Well we’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of some of the many Latino and Latin American actors who’ve traded in the pageantry of celebrity for the pageantry of national and local politics, with mixed results. From presidential hopefuls to senators and cabinet members, here’s a look into Latin America’s own take on the Ronald Reagan phenomenon.
We might know this Panamanian trovador as salsa’s version of Bob Dylan, but Blades also parlayed his fame into a pretty successful career as an actor, taking starring roles in classics like Crossover Dreams, The Milagro Beanfield War, and most recently, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. But earning the status of legendary salsa musician and prolific Hollywood actor apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy Blades’ ambitions. In 1994, Mr. Pedro Navaja ran for president in his home country of Panama, and while he wasn’t victorious, earned a respectable 18 percent of the final tally. Then in 2004 he was named Minister of Tourism by then-president Martín Torrijos. Probably doesn’t hurt that he has a master’s degree in International Law from Harvard.
One of the most iconic actresses of the low-brow ficheras era in Mexican cinema, Salinas switched focus to telenovelas when her star began to fade in the early 1980s, and even had a small role in Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. She followed up her latest turn in Televisa’s 2014 Mi corazón es tuyo by becoming an unelected congresswoman for Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Yes, we said unelected: Mexico’s congressional system has more than a few quirks. And since she first appeared on the house floor a few months back, the honorable Ms. Salinas has becoming renowned for her long naps on the job and flipping off anyone who dares question her credentials. Yes, America, it could be worse.
One of Argentina’s most visible actors from the 1970s, Brandoni earned international recognition for his starring role in 1974’s La tregua, which would go on to become the first Argentine film nominated for an Academy Award. He followed up with a number of well-received films, including 1984’s Darse cuenta and the 1985 cult classic Esperando la carroza. Since then, the 65-year-old has continued to star on stage and screen, with more recent appearances on the Argentine sitcom El hombre de tu vida. In the early 1980s, Brandoni was appointed Cultural Policy Adviser for then-president Raúl Alfonsín, and in 1993 was elected to the Argentine house of representatives, where he served until 2001. Unfortunately for Brandoni, his political ambitions were held at bay when he tried to make the leap to the Argentine Senate in 2005, and subsequently the Vice Governorship of Buenos Aires Province in 2007. Both times he was shut down by popular vote.
With a career dating back to 1949, this Sinaloa-born blonde bombshell was one of the most visible actresses of Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema, but Pinal is perhaps best known as Luis Buñuel’s sensuous Mexican muse, starring in undisputed masterpieces of world cinema like Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel, and Simon of the Desert. After working as an activist in the actor’s trade union movements of the 1950s, Pinal formalized her political career as a congresswoman for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from 1991-94, then later became a Senator in 1997. Oh, and she’s Alejandra Guzmán’s mother. Go figure.
You might have caught wind of the recent upheaval in Guatemala that led to the ouster of president Otto Pérez Molina on corruption charges, but you may not have known that a right-wing comic actor by the name of Jimmy Morales (known for performing in blackface) is poised to take his place. After making a name for himself on the Guatemalan television show Moralejas alongside his brother Sammy, Morales moved to the big screen, where he’s produced and acted in eight local productions. In 2011, he started his foray into politics with the right-wing Action for National Development party, before switching over to the National Convergence Front. While his conservative politics may not go over well with a certain sector of the population, his outsider political status and corruption-free CV (along with a master’s degree in Strategic Studies) led him to victory in the first round of Guatemala’s 2015 presidential elections. Stay tuned for round two.
Sure, she may be overshadowed by baby sis Thalía, but over a 40-year career, Zapata has earned a handful of big screen credits alongside her numerous iconic turns as La Mala of Mexican telenovelas. In 2003, after falling victim to a highly publicized kidnapping, Zapata linked up with the ruling Partido de Acción Nacional and ran as a congresswoman for Mexico’s 26th district. Unfortunately for Zapata, it didn’t quite work out and she continues playing second fiddle to her multi-hyphenate hermanita.
Alright, maybe he’s not technically a politician, but this El Barrio-born Boricua did draw attention when he signed on as a full-time deputy for Bedford County, Virginia’s democratically-elected Sheriff Michael J. Brown. How Estrada ended up enforcing the law in a rural southern county of 68,000 inhabitants is a question best saved for some divine, omniscient force of the universe, but we can tell you that it’s pretty goofy. Unfortunately for residents of western Virginia, Estrada’s already pushing retirement age at 66, but we can still hold out hope for an imminent campaign from future Sheriff Erik Estrada. Just because.