Opinion | The Left returns to Latin America

Written By: Annu Kaushik WION
New Delhi Published: Dec 23, 2021, 09:30 PM(IST)

Chilean president-elect Gabriel Boric gestures after addressing supporters following the official results of the runoff presidential election, in Santiago, on December 19, 2021. With almost 100 percent of ballots counted, leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric, 35, became Chile's youngest-ever president leading with 55.87 percent to 44 percent for his far-right rival Jose Antonio Kast. Photograph:( AFP )

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Presently, Latin America lacks popular centrist parties. In the end, the choice is often between the Left and the Right

Gabriel Boric, widely dubbed as a 'leftist millennial' created history by becoming Chile's youngest president at the age of 35. 

For the country it was deja vu. Chile became the first Latin American nation to democratically elect a Marxist leader when Salvador Allende came to power in 1970. His term was cut short by a US-backed military coup led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

As for Boric, he is the latest in a series of leaders spearheading the resurgence of the Left in Latin America.

The last five years saw the election of socialist leaders in the region- Lopez Obrador in Mexico (2018), Alberto Fernandez in Argentina (2019) and Pedro Castillo in Peru (2021).

In Brazil, former President Lula Da Silva has been maintaining a lead over incumbent leader Jair Bolsonaro in opinion polls ahead of the 2022 elections.

History is repeating itself. Latin America has long been under the sway of Leftist politics.

Socialist leaders saw a rise in popularity in the 1950s and 1970s. But it was the Cold War era and these governments were toppled through coups backed by the United States with notable examples being the overthrow of Brazilian President Joao Goulart in 1964 and Argentina's Isabel Peron in 1976. Washington was opposed to governments that it saw as ideologically inclined to its rival Soviet Union. 

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991), US interference in the region declined and the Left saw an opportunity to bounce back. One of the most notable Leftist leaders to emerge in the years that followed was Lula who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2010.

The Left's comeback is not a stand-alone phenomenon. It's also important to take note of the competing ideologies. In Chile, Boric was pitted against Jose Antonio Kast, a vocal supporter of Pinochet whose brutal military regime was marred by political killings.

In Peru, Castillo contested against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of unpopular former President Alberto Fujimori whose rule has been described as dictatorial. Fujimori's support for her father only worsened her poll prospects.

One thing is clear- leaders who evoke the memories of dictatorships are unlikely to be favoured by the public. The issue here is that of extremes.

Presently, Latin America lacks popular centrist parties. In the end, the choice is often between the Left and the Right.

But this doesn't mean that Leftist governments have always remained popular. They have been ousted from power over corruption, unemployment and debt. In 2016, Lula's close aide and then Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached over a graft scandal.

Poor handling of the economy has also led to the defeat of governments that are not Left-leaning. At the time of his election in 2015, centre-right President Mauricio Macri promised to fix the Argentine economy through free-market policies. He lost the next polls amid controversy over a multi-billion dollar loan that his government took from the International Monetary Fund.

The Left continues to charm Latin America. But there's also an aversion to its policies amid fears of becoming another Venezuela.

It was one of the region's most prosperous countries.

Now, Venezuela is battling hyperinflation that has been driven by poor strategies and international sanctions.

The country's economic freefall has served as a cautionary tale for those on the path of socialism in Latin America

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

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