In the history of the Left, one continent is always going to find its mention- Latin America; the continent has etched a permanent mark. From the iron-hand communism of Fidel Castro to the defensive socialism of Hugo Chavez, Latin America has seen its fair share of political turmoil. Not to forget the cultural iconoclast Che Guevara, who continues to be important, several years after his death.
The left has always found a political space in Latin America.
It did go through a crisis during a string of military coups and dictatorships. But the pink tide took over the continent from 1990s to 2010. Though, the wave was again disrupted a few years back. Now, years later, the tide has been resurrected. Western media, in the last few months has reported that the ‘pink tide’ has again taken over the continent. But this article, begs to differ.
On the first day of the 2023, Latin America’s six most significant economies were under the control of left-wing leaders. Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva was the latest to take office on January 1st. He joined Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, Alberto Fernandez in Argentina, Gabriel Boric in Chile, Gustavo Petro in Colombia and Dina Boluarte in Peru. Each of these leaders took over from a predecessor who had a more conservative or centrist outlook.
However, the Latin left is poles apart from the Western left. There are no chances of alliance between the two.
The first ‘Pink Tide’
Between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, Latin America witnessed a massive ‘left wave.’ It happened in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela. The region’s first leader of the “pink tide” was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was elected in 1999. This was followed by Brazilian President Lula in 2002.
For years, the countries ruled by left-wing governments experienced high approval ratings. They opposed imperialist nations including the United States propelled by high commodity prices and China’s demand for raw materials. However, during the 2010s, the pink tide ebbed, as the populace turned away from populist measures. This resulted in the downfall of several left governments and the emergence of more conservative, pro-business politics.
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But the current tide is far different from the previous one. This shift to the left is primarily a result of economic dissatisfaction, not the re-emergence of conservatism.
Pink Wave 2.0?
The four most recent leaders were chosen during a period of increasing economic instability. The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in higher inflation and unemployment levels in Latin America.
Gabriel Boric became the President of Chile in December 2021; Gustavo Petro won the Colombian election in June 2022; Lula da Silva was elected President of Brazil in October 2022; and Dina Boluarte, who previously served as Vice President, assumed the Presidency of Peru in December 2022 after the impeachment of Pedro Castillo from her left-wing party.
The approval ratings of leftist leaders today are not as high as they were during the pink tide. This has caused a lot of political upheaval in some countries. In stark contrast to their predecessors, modern leftist leaders have seen their approval ratings plummet shortly after taking office. It was due to their failure to swiftly implement promised reforms and sustain high levels of welfare spending during an international economic downturn.
To sum up, they failed miserably at delivering their promises.
Chilean President Boric’s rating is currently hovering around 33%. Argentine President Fernandez has an even lower rating of 7.9%; as his own coalition has started to contemplate putting forward another choice in the 2023 general election.
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In addition, the current leftist leaders are not as influential as their predecessors, and have had difficulty obtaining the same amount of backing from the public. Even Lula won the elections against Bolsonaro by a narrow margin of 1.8%, which was the closest in Brazil’s history.
Driven by dissatisfaction, not ideology
The recent shift to the left in Latin America is mostly caused by a hostile atmosphere against the current leaders, which emerged from the economy’s high instability. To put it simply, people are choosing their government representatives based on their displeasure with the current elites who have not been able to make life any better, rather than focusing on which political party the candidates come from.
The disappointment of Latin American citizens with their governments’ inability to deliver results in a timely manner, combined with the rejection of perceived “political elites,” has created an environment in which far-right ideologies have gained traction.
This was exemplified in 2018, when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was elected with a message of anti-establishment politics. Over the course of his term, Bolsonaro’s approval has remained strong and was demonstrated by the riots that broke out following his narrow defeat in the 2022 election. These events demonstrate that right ideology continues to be appealing to many Latin American citizens.
Right wing still strong
On the other hand, right wing politics has still not been uprooted from the region.
In recent years, other South American countries have experienced the ascendance of right-wing leaders such as Argentina’s Javier Milei, Chile’s ex-presidential nominee Jose Antonio Kast, and Colombia’s onetime presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez. These figures have earned backing through addressing issues like immigration and abortion, although a few (like Ecuador’s Lasso) have mainly focused on economic matters.
In Ecuador’s February 2021 presidential election, the right wing banker Guillermo Lasso beat the populist candidate Andres Arauz. The Chilean President Boric has even vowed to bury neoliberalism. That’s not very leftist of him!
Despite the re-emergence of the left in Latin America, governments may not be able to capitalize on the chance to strengthen their economic and trade connections with each other because of protectionist trade practices and the emphasis on domestic issues. Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, meanwhile, are in favour of increasing the government’s role in the economy.
Additionally, all three countries Chile, Colombia, Peru are impeded by domestic issues. Such as Chile’s work on a new constitution, Colombia striving for peace with insurgent forces, and Peru’s current unrest over the former president’s removal from office.
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This Pink Tide in Latin America is likely to be temporary. Since, the shift to the left is a result of dissatisfaction with economic performance. There could be some collaboration on climate change or security measures. Though, most of the region’s cooperation will likely take the form of diplomatic meetings and photo-ops for presidents. Governments will likely be voted out if they are unable to improve economic conditions, . The current period of convergence is unlikely to last for long.
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