“New presidents face more constraints than their predecessors in carrying out radical programmes to improve health, education, and everyday living standards.”
By Tim Young, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America
The recent win by Lula in the Brazilian presidential election over Jair Bolsonaro is the latest electoral victory by progressive left forces in Latin America.
Over the last four years, progressive left candidates have won a series of presidential elections in Latin American countries: AMLO in Mexico (2018); Alberto Fernandez in Argentina (2019); Luis Arce in Bolivia in 2019, overturning the illegal coup regime of Jeanine Áñez; Pedro Castillo in Peru (2021); Gabriel Boric in Chile (2021); Xiomara Castro in Honduras at the end of 2021; and Gustavo Petro in Colombia last year, a historic win by a left-wing president in a country dominated by the Right for more than 50 years.
But these successes at the polls have been no guarantee that the traditional problems confronting progressives in Latin America – the United States’ political and economic power in the region and the entrenched nature of local political and economic elites in each country – have been overcome.
The current economic situation is also very different from the earlier ‘pink tide’ during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The commodities boom of that earlier period which funded substantial state spending on infrastructure and welfare has gone. These new presidents face a much bleaker picture of a world still recovering from the pandemic, inflation driving up the price of consumer goods such as food and fuel, and the threat of a global recession.
These facts alone mean these new presidents face more constraints than their predecessors in carrying out radical programmes to improve health, education, and everyday living standards.
Such programmes would also present a challenge to US political and economic interests and to local elites displaced from political dominance by their loss of presidential office. What we have seen in a number of countries is determined resistance to any sort of radical agenda.
In Honduras, for example who elected a left-wing President at the end of last year, Congressional repeal of a deeply unpopular law allowing for the creation of special economic development zones (ZEDEs) has been challenged by a United States-based company determined to exercise its perceived rights under the ZEDE framework to invest in the zones.
The US State Department weighed in to condemn the new law, with veiled threats about potential legal action, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been urged by two US Senators to act against the Honduran government. How this squares with Blinken’s assertion that the US is only concerned with a country’s commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights is yet to be seen.
We also wait to see how politics will play out in Colombia, where Petro has moved quickly to establish good relations with Maduro in Venezuela, or in Brazil where Bolsonaro supporters deeply opposed to Lula’s victory carried out an attack on Brazil’s democratic institutions on January 8th. The acts of violence, intimidation and vandalism witnesses were aimed at undermining Lula’s government, with far-right activists calling on the military to carry out a coup.
The coup against Castillo in Peru – and the vicious repression against protestors for democracy since his imprisonment – also show clearly that the oligarchies and their allies in the West have not given up.
Vigilance and international solidarity will therefore remain vital – now is the time to show your support for the Latin American Left!
- Join the Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America in taking action in support of progressive movements across Latin America.
- You can sign a public statement of support for democracy in Peru here;
- Add your name to a public statement challenging far-right violence in Bolivia;
- Lobby your MP to sign an Early Day Motion showing solidarity with Lula after the far-right attack on democracy.
- Find out more about a whole range of other issues affecting Latin America at this year’s Latin America Conference being held on Saturday January 28th 2023 at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD (nearest tube Euston/Kings Cross). With experts, academics, trade unionists, politicians and activists from the UK, Europe and Latin America. More information is available here; and find tickets here.