Home LATEST NEWS The left in power in Latin America: a groundswell?

The left in power in Latin America: a groundswell?

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What explains this left wind?

What we have seen in Latin America in recent years is a cycle of sanctions against outgoing governments, regardless of their political affinities., argues Christophe Ventura, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), in Paris, specialist in Latin America. In the years 2015-2018, it was the right that took advantage of it, today it is the left, he adds.

This rejection is partly explained by the economic crisis affecting the region. The commodity boom of the 2000s enabled strong growth and the implementation of social programs. Since this phase of expansion ended about ten years ago, growth has slowed and social inequalities have increased. Added to this was a perception of mismanagement, fueled by large-scale corruption scandals.

There is an enormous mistrust of populations and public opinion towards governments, political classes, institutions, all representative organizations, in general, of politics. »

A quote from Christophe Ventura, research director at IRIS.

An analysis shared by Sébastien Dubé, professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations atUniversity of the Nortein Barranquilla, Colombia, who believes that the democratic malaise is fueled by questionable or outright corrupt behavior on the part of the elites, as well as their mishandling of the pandemic.

In the opinion polls, you see that the rate of confidence in the presidency, the justice system, the police, the deputies, the Congress and the political parties is at an all time low.he says.

A crowd of protesters in a chaotic scene.

Large-scale protests rocked Colombia in the spring of 2021.

Photo: Reuters

It is this dissatisfaction that dictates the vote of Latin American voters rather than an ideological attachment to the left or the right, thinks Mr. Dubé.

If you believe that the government is not doing enough or that your pension fund will melt because of devaluations, your concern will not be all the mechanics, but rather do you have access to health services quality? Did the government do its job?

It is short-term perspectives rather than more ideological considerations that motivate the vast majority of voters. »

A quote from Sébastien Dubé, professor at theUniversity of the Nortein Colombia

The role of the pandemic

Latin America has been hit hard by the pandemic. In addition to killing at least 1.3 million people, COVID-19 has left 22 million more destitute. The region has thus lost the advances of the last decade in the fight against poverty.

The regional unemployment rate reached 10.7% at the end of 2020, an increase of 2.6% compared to 2019. The International Labor Organization (ILO) further estimates that workers in the informal sector, the majority in Latin America, lost 80% of their income.

In this difficult context, it is not surprising that voters are attracted to candidates who emphasize social justice and the redistribution of wealth.

Men carry a coffin in an arid area.

Relatives carry the coffin of a suspected COVID-19 victim to the Nueva Esperanza cemetery, one of the largest in Latin America, in the southern suburbs of Lima on May 30, 2020.

Photo: AFP / Ernesto Benavides

The pandemic has revealed the fragility of economies, social policies and socio-economic institutionsbelieves Stéphanie Rousseau, professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Peru, in Lima.

We are back to poverty levels of 10 years ago; it is sure that it has an impact at the political level. »

A quote from Stéphanie Rousseau, professor at the Catholic University of Peru.

On the other hand, she believes, each situation is to be taken on a case-by-case basis, since each country has its own trajectory.

In Peru, for example, the victory of Pedro Castillo, candidate of the Marxist-Leninist Free Peru party, largely reflects a rejection of the right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, convicted of crimes against humanity and corruption. This is not necessarily a sign that there is strong support for the left in the populationbelieves Ms. Rousseau.

Castillo is a leader of peasant, rural and union origin. This is perhaps what generated public support rather than clear support for a left-wing program that would have been well broadcast and well understood. »

A quote from Stéphanie Rousseau, professor at the Catholic University of Peru.

In Brazil, it is also the mismanagement of the pandemic that could get the better of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. With more than 600,000 dead, the country has one of the worst tolls in the world, the second after the United States. A parliamentary commission of inquiry has also accused President Bolsonaro of several crimes, including crimes against humanity, for his management of the health crisis.

Former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party, is tipped to win the presidential election in October.

More differences than similarities

What these leaders have in common is above all to emerge in this context of economic slowdown amplified by the pandemic. But we can in no way speak of a homogeneous left across the region, argues Stéphanie Rousseau.

Gabriel Boric raises his arm.

The new Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, 35, promises to radically transform his country.

Photo: AP / Matias Delacroix

In Chile, the coming to power of Gabriel Boric represents a change of generation, believes Mr. Ventura. Boric is opposed to authoritarianism and verticality in political organization, he has distanced himself from Cuba and Venezuela, which are however historical references of the Latin American left.

This new Chilean left cares about the environment and tries to replace the economic model based on the exploitation and export of raw materials and natural resources. It also has a different stance on geopolitical issues, less marked by the break with Washington and the denunciations of American imperialism.

It is a left that is more moderate and more social-democratic than it is revolutionary. »

A quote from Christophe Ventura, research director at IRIS

Alongside this modern left, however, there are contested regimes such as those of Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela, and Daniel Ortega, re-elected in November at the head of Nicaragua.

In Peru, Pedro Castillo is more in this leftist trend oldemphasizes Sébastien Dubé. We are talking about a very 60s-70s Castro left, ultra homophobic and ultra macho. If we think of an inclusive, progressive, egalitarian discourse, it is not him.

A man wearing a large hat during a ceremonial ceremony.

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo during his swearing-in ceremony in Lima, July 28, 2021.

Photo: Reuters / ANGELA PONCE

In a region where the weight of the Catholic Church is very strong, the left has difficulty in positioning itself. People will say that they need more public schools and hospitals, but that homosexuals can marry or that women have access to abortion, it still provokes a lot of resistance.believes Mr. Dubé.

What room for maneuver in this context of crisis?

The global context has changed: we are no longer in a cycle of international trade expansion, but rather in a phase of economic slowdown to which is added, in many cases, the indebtedness linked to COVID -19. These new lefts come to power in a less prosperous environment, so their ambitions are more limitednotes Christophe Ventura.

In the case of Chile, we saw a phenomenon of capital flight right from the election campaign, notes the researcher. High-income categories and investors take money out of the country to protect it from taxation that they consider too heavy on them, he points out. It’s not unusual when the left takes power, but it could complicate matters for the president-elect, as he plans tax reform that will largely rest with the wealthy.

If the more affluent categories take out their money not to contribute to this effort, it will be difficult for Boric to set up his program. »

A quote from Christophe Ventura, research director at IRIS.
  Three men in jackets.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ex-president of Brazil, José Mujica, ex-president of Uruguay, and Alberto Fernández, president of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on December 10, 2021, to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the return of democracy in Argentina after the dictatorship (1976-1983).

Photo: Getty Images / Marcos Brindicci

In Brazil, the situation will be similar for Lula if he is elected in October. The former trade unionist returns with the project of putting Brazil back on the path to democracy, but he will have a lot to do to put the country back on track. As everywhere in Latin America, the setbacks in recent years have been significant.

% or 6% per year.”,”text”:”The Brazil that Lula could recover is a damaged Brazil economically, but also democratic, believes Christophe Ventura. The effects of previous years are dire in terms of social inequality, declining literacy and malnutrition. And unfortunately, this time, there is no China that will open its markets to Brazilian exports, creating growth at 5% or 6% per year.”}}”>The Brazil that Lula could recover is a damaged Brazil economically, but also democratic, believes Christophe Ventura. The effects of previous years are dire in terms of social inequality, declining literacy and malnutrition. And unfortunately, this time, there is no China that will open its markets to exports from Brazil, creating growth at 5% or 6% per year.

In Colombia too, it is quite a challenge that awaits the former mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro if he is chosen president this spring, as the polls predict. A victory for the left at the head of the country would be a first in Colombia.

The ex-guerrilla is benefiting from the widespread fed up with the outgoing president, Ivan Duque. Will he be able to meet the enormous expectations of the population, in a difficult economic context and while unemployment is breaking records? The capital of sympathy he currently has will quickly crumble if the solutions are not up to par.

In any case, the various governments will have to make concessions and govern from the center if they want to rally the widest possible base and stay in power. Waiting for the next electoral cycle and a possible return of the pendulum.

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