The left wave in Latin American politics is not at all revolutionary
Gabriel Boric, who The Associated Press describes him as a “left-wing millennial”, was elected president of Chile last month, a development that should have caught everyone’s attention. Boric, a 35-year-old former student movement protester, defeated a far-right neofascist resembling Donald Trump to become the nation’s youngest leader.
Boric, a 35-year-old former student movement protester, defeated a far-right neofascist resembling Donald Trump.
His victory is another big one for the Latin American left, a few weeks after Honduras elected Xiomara Castro, another leftist candidate, as the Central American country’s first female president.
These two victories followed the rural teacher Pedro Castillo’s summer victory in Peru, which followed a Victory 2020 for Luis Arce in Bolivia which marked the return of the party of Evo Morales. Argentina and Panama returned to the left in 2019.
Although countries like Uruguay, El Salvador and Ecuador recently shifted to the right, Latin America’s left trend – which has begun with the victory of the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2018 – is more notable. Contrary to what we did with previous changes, we shouldn’t easily conclude that the so-called comeback of the left is simply part of a historical pattern. In fact, what is happening in Latin America is a combination of many factors, including extreme inequality and economic stagnation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like Marcela García of the Boston Globe noted in a column about the elections in Chile and Honduras, “something different needs to be done to address crippling income inequality.” What could be better than introducing new candidates and more progressive policies?
“Progressive” in this context does not mean a nostalgic return to the glory days of the Latin American left when anti-imperialism was all the rage. The victories in Chile and Honduras should never be equated with Daniel Ortega’s recent election farce in Nicaragua, which resulted in a fourth term for former guerrilla leader. Instead, what is probably happening in Latin America is more of a slight nudge to the center-left.
Boric’s win is just the latest example. In one Thursday interview with Latino Rebels Radio (the podcast I’ve hosted since 2014), Chilean political theorist Camille Vergara Boric said, even with the backing of a leftist coalition that includes the country’s Communist Party, is not a true leftist and hasn’t been for some time. Comparing him further to Barack Obama of 2008, Vergara said Boric needed to move quickly to the center in the second round of the election and win the support of centrist and center-right interests that are pushing “neoliberalism” in Chile that he said he wanted to end. . As Vergara said, a Boric vote was more a vote against stopping fascism and sympathizers with Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship than a choice for Boric. Moreover, as has already been reported, the process of rewriting Chile’s Pinochet-era constitution could shorten Boric’s term, as a constitutional convention, if a new constitution is ratified in 2023, could call new elections.
Boric could end up being what Americans would consider a left-wing but moderate Democrat.
Ultimately, Boric could end up being what Americans would consider a left-wing but moderate Democrat, akin to Mexico’s López Obrador — who toned down his past rhetoric by gaining presidential power; bypassed around positions including abortion and the environment; and enjoyed a oddly cordial relationship with Trump when he was president, so much so that the wall Trump couldn’t build on the US side of the border with Mexico was mostly moved south on the Mexico-Guatemala border in the form of additional Mexican troops placed there by the López Obrador administration.
Yet the Latin American left as a more moderate movement will be tested twice more this year. Presidential elections are program for May in Colombia and October in Brazil. There is already indications that by moving more to the center and not fully embracing his leftist past, Gustavo Petro is following a boric pattern for victory in Colombia. As for Brazil, in the last poll, right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro is 22 points behind former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Remarkably, it is the same Lula who was found guilty of bribery in 2017, but Bolsonaro’s Covid-19 denial tour led to approximately 19% approval rate.
All of this is played out while a Human Rights Watch report published on Thursday described the “alarming reversal” of fundamental freedoms in Latin America, where “even democratically elected leaders have attacked independent civil society, the free press and judicial independence”.
The reality in Latin America is that democracy continues to be an experiment that is not yet fully fleshed out. Structural and institutional problems are still rife, while protests against the power structure, such as in Chile Where Colombia – have led to deeper attempts to transform society. The region’s new leftist wave, while not as revolutionary as previous generations, is at least trying to offer a new way to change it moving forward.
Hopefully, the reactionary pendulum, which history has proven will eventually swing back, will not be so intense as to set back what little progress Latin America has witnessed in recent years.