Keys to the rise of the left in Latin America


The recent victories of Gabriel Boric in Chile and of Xiomara Castro in Honduras, who takes office this Thursday, join those of Pedro Castillo in Peru or Luis Arce in Bolivia. TO exception of Ecuador, where Guillermo Lasso won, all the presidential elections of the last year and a half are counted by left wins.

The streak could continue in 2022 if Gustavo Petro, the favorite in all the polls, wins the May elections in Colombia and Lula Da Silva, who also leads the polls, does the same in Brazil in October. Counting on the Mexico of López Obrador and the Argentina of Alberto Ferández, the six main economies of Latin America could remain in progressive hands.

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The panorama was very different in July 2018, when Andrés Manuel López Obrador brought the left to power for the first time in Mexico. The North American country then seemed to go against the current. Past year, the right had recovered Chile with Sebatián Piñera, Lenin Moreno had broken with Correismo in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru remained conservative bastions and Brazil was about to enter, led by Jair Bolsonaro, directly to the extreme pole of that political spectrum.

Only the victory of Alberto Fernández in Argentina, in October 2019, gave some air to an exhausted left, which at that time added two new defeats in Bolivia and Uruguay.

shorter political cycles

In two years, however, the tables have turned again and the left is faced with the possibility of being more hegemonic than ever in Latin America. A swerve that analysts explain by the pandemic context and internal circumstances from each of the countries. “These are expected political alternations, the product of people’s discontent with the situation,” says Bolivian political scientist and economist Mario Torrico. “If the government in power is from the left, people are going to vote for the right, if it is a government from the left, they vote for the right.”

After analyzing the previous turn to the right in a recent book, this researcher from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), notes that political cycles are getting shorter and anticipates that in the future they will be less and less marked, tending to a greater balance between governments of the right and the left, whose alternation in power will be defined, above all, by domestic factors.

They are expected political alternations, a product of people’s discontent with the situation

In Honduras, for example, the victory of Xiomara Castro puts an end to 12 years in a row conservative governments of the National Party government, which started in 2009 with the coup that removed her husband, Manuel Zelaya, from power, were sustained thanks to highly contested elections and ended up involved in all kinds of corruption and drug trafficking scandals.

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In Chile, however, the arrival of Gabriel Boric in power at the head of a new party, after 4 years of the right-wing Sebastían Piñera, in addition to breaking with bipartisanship, he is the expression of a deeper institutional crisis, which had already led to a constituent process. In the Chilean case, in addition, the germ of everything, the social outbreak of 2019, was prior to the pandemic, another factor that has accelerated the wear and tear of some governments.

After the pandemic, more State

The health crisis has left dramatic images in Latin America ofand overflowing hospitals, corpses abandoned in the streets and endless lines to get oxygen. The seams of the states have been exposed. Its manifest weakness would have also precipitated the demand for other public policies.

“In general, I do believe that there is a very critical vision of the project, let’s say, neoliberal, of shrinking the state, of limiting social rights,” says the Cuban historian and essayist, Rafael Rojas, who points, however, to the paradox that during the pandemic “left-wing” governments such as the Mexican or the Nicaraguan they have hardly given direct aid to the population, while the Brazilian or the Chilean have done so abundantly.

The COVID crisis has left the public coffers of the countries very affected and the budgetary room for maneuver that the new governments have to promote alternative policies may be very limited. Your survival seems more precarious than that of the “pink tide” of the first decade of the 21st century.

During that leftist cycle, the one in which Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Lula de Silva or the Kirchnesr, the price of raw materials, which are exported by most Latin American countries, was through the roof. “And that -recalls Mario Torrico- allowed them to increase social spending and reduce poverty in important numbers. But without that external engine there is no way to maintain those policies”.

A more moderate and diverse left

The new progressive wave is also more moderate and diverse. There was never a single Latin American left, but now it is more difficult for it to close ranks around a bloc like the Bolivarian one.

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“The triumphs of Castillo in Peru, of Xiomara in Honduras and of Boric in Chile speak of the heterogeneity of the field”, explains historian Rojas. “In the case of Castillo, I would place him within a popular, moderate left, like that of Mexico and Argentina. In the case of Xiomara, he does come from a more Bolivarian lineage and there could be a process of rapprochement with that bloc. And in Boric’s case, clearly belongs to this new democratic left”.

The triumphs of Castillo in Peru, Xiomara in Honduras and Boric in Chile speak of the heterogeneity

Boric’s, embodied in the majority female cabinet presented last week, incorporates all the agendas of the global left such as feminism, environmentalism, reproductive rights and those of LGBTI groups. Xiomara’s, on the other hand, is part of a deeply conservative and sexist country, with the highest femicide rate in the region and abortion totally prohibited. During the campaign, he came to launch the proposal to decriminalize it in the three basic causes, such as in the case of rape, but stopped insisting on it in the face of the controversy generated.

Between the US and the Bolivarian bloc

In Mexico, they are not priority issues for López Obrador either. The Mexican president has affirmed that neoliberalism was dedicated to “encouraging feminism, environmentalism, the defense of human rights or the protection of animals so that we would not notice that they were looting the world.”

In other matters, the government of López Obrador yes it is a reference of this new leftist batch, that bets on the strengthening of the state, but does not nationalize, nor does it want to confront the businessmen or the United States.

The Mexican president succeeded against all odds maintain a good relationship with Donald Trump and he has followed the same trend with Joe Biden, despite his gestures towards the Bolivarian bloc, such as offering asylum to Bolivian Evo Morales or having Cuban Miguel Díaz Canel as guest of honor for the Mexican bicentennial parade.

The Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro is another who seems to feel comfortable on Mexican soil. After more than a year without leaving his country, he flew to the Mexican capital in September last year to participate in the CELAC summit.

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The Mexican position towards Nicaragua has also been warmer than other countries, abstaining from all resolutions condemning the Daniel Ortega regime in the OAS, including the one that considered the November 2021 elections to be illegitimate, held with the entire opposition outlawed and its leaders in jail or in exile. The governments of Castillo in Peru and Fernández in Argentina did, however, denounce the electoral farce.

The Chilean Boric has also publicly criticized the Sandinista leader and has dared even with Maduro, ora border that some still refuse to cross, as it happens with the Cuban case.

“There are gestures of rejection, mainly, at the bilateral level and especially with Nicaragua, but in regional forums there is still no general condemnation of authoritarianism,” reflects Rojas, who, however, sees it as difficult for the Bolivarians to regain hegemony. which they enjoyed in the golden age of the Chávez and company. Right now there is no one pushing in that direction. Gustavo Petro would not do it if he won in Colombia and only Lula, in case he returns to power in Brazil, – this historian believes – could be tempted to regain that lost influence by champions of the so-called “21st century socialism”.

There are gestures of rejection, but there is still no general condemnation of authoritarianism

The politician Mario Torrico is of the same opinion. With countries locked in post-pandemic recovery, he doesn’t think any of the leftist leaders would care to launch international crusades. And even if they wanted to, it is not clear that they would give them time.

At the frenetic pace of the new political times, where today the left governs, tomorrow the right could govern again. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández received an important notice in the November legislative elections. In Peru, Pedro Castillo counts his months in government due to crisis. In Bolivia, Luis Arce governs in permanent tension with the opposition.

In Chile, Gabriel Boric will not have a parliamentary majority. In Colombia, despite what the polls say today, the ruling party could win again in the May elections. In Brazil, in October, Lul could also be defeated; And by then, this text would have to be rewritten.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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