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CWA # 679, 12 February 2022

Latin America
The return of the Left 

  Porkkodi Ganeshpandian and Angkuran Dey

The current trend is more than just a passing phenomenon.

The Left in Latin America has been on the rise, as voters look for options amongst the new set of leftist leaders gaining steady ground. Is there a ‘Pink tide’? It would be a narrow conception; the new wave seems to be more nuanced, less dependent on natural resources and seeks to avoid machismo in their campaigns. This commentary attempts to explore the new conceptions of the Left in Latin America and examines the latest trend. 

People starving in Latin America has reached an all-time high during the pandemic. The supply chains were inefficient, pushing regimes to become fragile in the region. As per the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition Report (2021), conservative estimates show that over nineteen million people have remained hungry during the pandemic in Brazil. This is an important strand when coupled with the rising inequalities and the health crisis that the region is grappling with. To add to these woes, more countries in Latin America are dealing with a debt crisis as countries fall into a recession and force people to look for other leadership options. During the time of crises, going back to the Left has emerged as a feasible option for the population as citizens start expecting more from the state.

Second, the disappointment with the rightist parties, exacerbated by economic and social crises,  and incompetent governance have further contributed to the success of the Leftists in Latin America. 

However, there is increasing diversity within the Left, in terms of the background of the new leaders. The current Peruvian president is a teacher from an indigenous community in the rural parts. Castillo is more on the side of a ‘traditional left’ with his mistrust of the market and business people. Castillo was elected by the smallest of margins, with the election slogan; “no more poor people in a rich country”. His leftist notion has an increasing focus on evangelical traditions characterized by opposition to LGBTQ rights and abortion. This places him in conflict with the progressive left, whose support would become necessary as he takes over a fragmented congress. Similarly, the pre-election frustration in Honduras led to the rise of Xiomara Castro, the wife of former leftist leader Zelaya who was ousted. Traditional leftist conceptions are evident in these cases, where an increased focus is placed on the revival of the economy and the de-escalation of the migrant crisis that plague the region.

In contrast, Chile, one of the rich countries in the region, with the election of Gabriel Boric, has brought in a ‘new millennial left.’ Boric’s campaign focused on feminist currents, tackling climate change and reducing existing inequalities. He has emerged as a new face of a country, looking to cut the apprehensions of the past that have characterized Chilean Politics. Boric is poised to oversee a political transformation, with calls to bring in more social protection and put higher taxes in place for the rich. Boric’s progressive left stance became evident with the unveiling of a women-majority cabinet and his government would be overseeing the final stages of writing a new constitution signalling a new legacy. Central to his campaign just like in Peru was; that the market has failed and it has not been able to provide the level of prosperity which would fix the problems of the Chilean citizens.

What next in Latin America? Upcoming elections in Brazil and Colombia
The days of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro might be numbered. Bolsonaro changed his party for the ninth time before the elections, seeking to wrest his dropping approval rating. Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a lead against Bolsonaro; one can expect the Worker’s Party to make a comeback, as Lula gains significant ground. 

The Colombian people have indicated their frustration with the administration led by President Ivan Duque Marquez. This is due to the constant clashes between the militants of Colombia and the civilians. Further, the COVID-19 Pandemic and its subsequent impact on the economy has exacerbated life for the citizens, crushing businesses and aspirations. Hence, it is evident that the Colombians would opt-in for a change. However, it is unclear whether the desired change is enough to reorganize the country in the political spectrum of left versus right.

Return of the Left: Is it just a passing phenomenon in Latin America?
To conclude, factors such as discrimination against the indigenous community and the mishandling of the militancy crisis in Columbia would change the narrative of the return of the left in Latin America. 

The current trend is more than just a passing phenomenon. The failure of one party to deliver the desired outcome would drive the people, eventually, to choose the other alternative. This has been the pattern, with the late 2000s being the era of the leftists, the 2010s being the era of the rightists, and the current era leaning toward the left.


About the authors
Porkkodi Ganeshpandian is a PhD student with the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Angkuran Dey is a postgraduate scholar at the Center for South Asian Studies at Pondicherry University.

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