The war in Ukraine destabilized Europe and brought additional challenges to Latin America amid a tense relationship with the United States. The pink tide renewal revived hopes on the left that a new wave of progressives was the answer to the social unrest the region has been experiencing for the past few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the serious social conflict that most of the countries in the region were already experiencing, in part, due to the economic problems due to the growing debt and the increase in inequalities as a result of the slowdown in their economies after the commodity trading boom.
These challenges have only made the profound weaknesses of most political systems in the hemisphere more prominent, especially with respect to the state of their democracies and institutions and the failure to address the root cause of social unrest and economic hardship. through rigorous public policies. The shortcomings are far from an ideological debate, making the circumstances of this rise of left-wing governments very different from the original pink tide.
Economic crises have been recurring in the history of Argentina for decades, as have the political consequences. However, as the political scientist Yanina Welp has warned, it has taken more than the current shortcomings facing the government of Alberto Fernández to ignite social unrest in the past. Legal proceedings against current Vice President Cristina Fernández have deepened divisions in a highly polarized country. Meanwhile, government infighting has led to a succession of finance ministers charged with dealing with a debt crisis, fiscal deficit, skyrocketing inflation, continued recession and rising poverty, without a rigorous policymaking effort. that addresses the root causes of the structural crisis that divide the country.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in Brazil, while outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro left behind an interim president to evade an inauguration. Although the transition was inevitable, there was hope among supporters of the former president that he would be restored to power with a military intervention. This is probably the best way to describe the challenges of the new government.
As in Chile and Peru, Lula will face an opposition-controlled Congress that will make it difficult for him to achieve his political agenda. The common denominator in this version of the pink tide is the reprimand of the headline and with the opposition controlling the Legislative Branch as a brake. In a polarized country where the former president has not formally conceded, the promise to unify a partnership with the opposition refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the new president is a sign of the battle ahead for Lula da Silva and his coalition. The simultaneous attack on Congress, the Supreme Court and the Planalto Palace means that Bolsonaro may be out of formal power, but he will continue to wield influence from abroad.
In Chile, for its part, the historical inequalities that led to social unrest in 2019 were expected to be overcome with a new Constitution. Instead, the process became an additional source of division, with a majority at the Constitutional Convention squandering the opportunity to write a constitution that reflected a political statement of social justice, by attempting to redefine the country’s institutional framework.
Although initially support for a new Constitution was broad (78%), in the exit referendum the proposal was far from being approved. The output went beyond what was expected and, instead of closing the gap, increased social disparities. After acknowledging the failed attempt, President Gabriel Boric has vowed to work to support another, more inclusive effort that reflects the country’s aspirations. It will be challenging, but as in other countries in the region, the success of the progressive agenda will depend on the ability to engage with a broad political platform, rather than pursue progressive goals without consensus.
Gustavo Petro, in turn, became Colombia’s first leftist president, and with it a new chapter in the country’s history is being written. His ambitious political agenda deals with the social inequalities caused by the protests in 2021. But there is also an urgency to redefine policies, in order to fight drug trafficking and address climate change, aspects that are connected to the United States.Being a key ally in the region, Colombia’s role is extensive, considering not only the implementation of drug policies, but also the Petro’s connection to its neighbor, Nicolás Maduro. The Joe Biden administration has signaled its openness to engage with the Petro and has made it clear that both countries have more common interests than differences.
On the other hand, the dismissal of Pedro Castillo in Peru materialized after he announced the dissolution of Congress, just before congressmen voted on a third impeachment attempt on a series of accusations that included corruption, among other scandals. The failed coup has cost him his job and he is now under arrest pending trial. The dismissal of another president is a sign of the instability of the Presidency, but also an accusation that weighs on the political parties.
The pattern that we have described in Chile or Colombia is also present in Peru: inequality, exclusion and political corruption. Support for figures outside of political elites as a reaction to traditional politicians continues to be prevalent among the Latin American electorate, often favoring inexperienced politicians who lack the skills to ensure minimal governance. The Castillo case is the most recent, but in the Peruvian tradition it has been a recurring feature of the political system. The future of democracy in the region looks worrisome, especially in Peru, where the alternatives are limited.
And in Venezuela, the removal of the interim government comes at a time when the discussion on the consolidation of Maduro and the need to define the political options for the 2024 presidential elections is looming. After delivering the representation of the interests of the opposition to the government of Donald Trump, the “interim government” of Juan Guaidó lost momentum. Having been confident that the sanctions would be enough to weaken Maduro and his alliance, the opposition seemed outmatched by the regime, as it found more incentives to stick together than reasons to change the status quo.
The illiberal rise of open authoritarian regimes such as that of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela and, to a lesser extent, that of El Salvador, are the real threat facing democracies, whether left or right. The illiberal wave is the real challenge for Latin America in 2023.
*Visiting Professor of Political Science at Valencia College (Florida). Secretary of the Venezuelan Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).
www.latinoamerica21.com, plural medium committed to the dissemination of critical opinion and truthful information.
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