What explains and what are the challenges of the new Latin “pink wave” – DW – 06/21/2022

The “reddish” map being drawn in Latin America over the past two years – what academics call the new pink wave – has far less to do with ideological hues than the first wave of left-wing ascent on the continent that took place at the end of the years. 90’s and early 2000’s.

The political dominance of the left in the past dates back to the inauguration of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, in 1998, until the defeat of the Kirchner era in Argentina, in 2015. much more complex economic and social challenges, especially those linked to the environmental agenda, and will tread a very sandy terrain, without the financial support of the commodities boom.

The election of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez in Colombia, last Sunday, was another move towards the consolidation of this new power bloc. “Your victory strengthens democracy and progressive forces in Latin America”, declared former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on his social networks this Tuesday (21/06).

However, the extremely polarized political environments in the different countries of the region prove that the rise of the right – even if shortened by the coronavirus – cannot be overlooked and will only be governed by compromises between different economic and social sectors. In Colombia, for example, Petro won by a narrow margin, with 50.44% of the votes. The candidate on the right, Rodolfo Hernández, got 47.31%.

The possibility of the defeat of the current Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro (PL), and the return of Lula (PT) in 2023 to the government of Brazil, as the latest opinion polls have pointed out, would consolidate an aspiration for the resumption of a Latin regional bloc and action. economy, which was undermined by the Bolsonarista logic.

“There is only regional thinking and concrete thinking about Brazil’s role in Latin America with Lula or any other candidate who is committed to the traditional vision of Brazilian international relations. In Bolsonaro’s case, if he has any geopolitical ambition, it is that the Brazil turns its back on Latin America”, says Mathias Alencastro, political scientist, professor of international relations at UFABC and researcher at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap). For Alencastro, an eventual re-election of Bolsonaro would deepen the dynamics of decoupling Brazil from the rest of the continent.

Map shows the political spectrum of Latin America

The integration of the continent in the first pink wave, which lasted more than a decade and a half, brought consistent results and relevant historical news, according to professor Dawisson Belém Lopes, professor of International Politics at UFMG and currently a researcher at the Latin American Center at the University of Oxford. .

“Unasur (Union of South American Nations) was perhaps the most important thing born in the period”, emphasizes Lopes. In the professor’s view, the political union of the bloc in the past also had social consequences, especially because Brazil has become a kind of exporter of public policies such as Fome Zero and Bolsa Família, in addition to agrarian development policies led by the Embrapa.

Pandemic anticipated movement of historic pendulum

Experts in international relations stress that it is important to realize that the duration of the right and the extreme right in power has only been shortened due to the pandemic.

“It was thought that the right would have a longer cycle in Latin America, as the political science literature defines the cycles of political moods. But the pandemic accelerated the wear and tear of incumbents, of those in power. power in Latin America was the right, with the wear and tear of managing societies in the pandemic. The most disastrous management of the pandemic was precisely in Latin America”, emphasizes Dawisson Lopes. “More people died here than in other corners of the planet.”

If the world had not experienced the “biblical event of the pandemic”, points out Mathias Alencastro, “probably [Donald] Trump would have been re-elected and Bolsonaro would probably have been much better” in the electoral contest. The brevity of the right’s permanence due to historical circumstances did not, however, weaken the power of this political group.

This is why there is a more genuine desire for compaction in this new left, according to Alencastro, especially as shown by Gabriel Boric, 35, elected in November 2021 in Chile, Petro in Colombia and Lula, still campaigning, in Brazil. The prism of this new left, according to Alencastro, will need to include the entire democratic society, which is positive.

“People are voting for the left because they have seen that without a strong social state, without social cohesion, we will not survive in this world made of pandemics and climatic catastrophes”, says Alencastro. The historic moment is extraordinary, he says, and the left, programmatically, will have to demonstrate that it is up to the challenge.

For Dawisson Lopes, it is undeniable that the current political situation will push this left more and more to the center. Right-wing voices continue to emulate, he says, and “left governments in Latin America will not be able to implement policies of democratic socialism.”

“These governments will move to the right because societies have moved. It is difficult to imagine a Bolivarian government”, he maintains. The religious and customs agenda is imperative. “The left that is now taking over in Latin America is wearing a straitjacket from the moral, axiological and values ​​point of view. This reduces political spaces.”

The agenda of the future without the benefits of commodities

The rulers of the new pink wave in Latin America will be faced not only with structural dilemmas of social inequality on the continent, aggravated by the pandemic, but also with the imperative climate change agenda of this century. “Right-wing governments do not have inequality, or the mitigation of inequality, as their main platform, anywhere in the world. The central idea is to generate wealth, not to fight inequalities or social asymmetries”, observes Professor Dawisson Lopes. But the right did not deal well, according to him, with the devastating socioeconomic consequences imposed by the pandemic and found itself in a historic trap.

The new situation and the entry of the green transition agenda on the global agenda, in an emergency, increases the challenge of the new left in Latin America, explains Alencastro. According to him, it has already been evident in the speeches of the presidents of Chile and Colombia, who are a new generation of the left, that “environmental and social justice are inseparable and interconnected.”

“You won’t fight inequality in the 21st century without an ambitious climate policy. And you won’t have an ambitious climate policy without fighting inequality. Obviously this is a paradigmatic revolution of the Latin American left, which for 70 years believed that development would take place through the mobilization of natural resources”, says the professor of international relations.

It is too early to assess how this agenda will prosper in Latin America, he says, and environmental policy views are obviously not homogeneous among the new rulers. In addition, it is necessary to wait for Brazilian directions. Despite so many unknowns, Alencastro sees the current economic challenges as opportunities for the new left, with the possibility of exploring new paths in the face of the division of powers between China and the United States. Latin America, he says, will be able to experiment with new trade agreements, new development models, reinforcing regional autonomy, even if it does not have a comfort zone provided by the increase in commodities.

As these leftist governments will not be able to count on a prominent source of income and the fiscal challenge is a reality in practically all countries, the rulers, defends Alencastro, need to be more open to new proposals and to abuse management creativity.

“The new pink wave is much more linked to a challenge for the future, while the past wave was much more guided by the recent past. This wave looks forward. The past wave looked further back”, he defined.

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