With his victory in the second round, the president-elect of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva it seems to cement the crusade of the left in Latin America, although with many nuances.
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Lulawho was already president between 2003 and 2010, won an unprecedented third term on Sunday by beating the current far-right president, Jair Bolsonaroby less than two percentage points (50.9% against 49.1%).
With this victory, a second wave of the left seems to settle in the region, from Mexico to Chile, reminiscent of the early 2000s. However, analysts warn that this time it is very different, with a tendency more towards pragmatism than ideology.
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Right-wing and center-right parties lost power in recent elections in Honduras, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, as well as Colombia, which elected the first left-wing president in its history despite deep-rooted mistrust, as in the rest of the region, to everything that conservatives associate with “communism”.
“It is not that Latin Americans are becoming more leftist”Michael Shifter, from the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, explains to AFP. “It’s more of a pushback trend than anything else… people looking for an alternative.”
The leap to the left was driven by the economic crisis, which worsened with the covid-19 pandemic. Latin America was one of the hardest hit regions: many felt ignored, even denigrated, by the political class as poverty and inequality deepened.
And the punishment vote took its toll.
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the first wave
In Brazil, moreover, Bolsonaro was a particularly controversial leader and his rejection prompted the vote for Lula, an icon of the Brazilian and Latin American left.
The far-right president is considered by many Brazilians to be a divisive, racist, sexist and homophobic politician.
His skeptical position towards covid is largely considered one of the causes of the enormous balance of more than 685,000 deaths from the pandemic, and during his government deforestation in the Amazon skyrocketed, after his policies to promote agribusiness and the dismantling of institutions that protected it.
But he still has the backing of the half of the electorate who value his traditional values agenda and his handling of the economy.
A Lula For his part, he is recognized for having lifted some 30 million Brazilians out of poverty in his previous terms thanks to social programs financed by the boom in raw materials. He ended his presidency in 2010 with close to 90% approval.
But he was tainted by accusations of corruption and a sentence that in 2018 took him 19 months in jail, finally annulled for procedural reasons. The figure of him also generates a great rejection in Brazil.
Lula he was part of that original ‘pink tide’, with which leaders such as Evo Morales in Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela came to power.
“There was a very optimistic wave of leftist governments trying to reduce poverty, tackle inequality”said Guilherme Casaroes, a political analyst at the Fundación Getulio Vargas university. “And the economic conditions were much better.”
Then came the global financial crisis that ravaged export-dependent Latin America, triggering a reactive shift to the right.
But those governments did not efficiently deal with the situation, aggravated by a pandemic that revealed inequality in access to health and education.
This new ‘tide’, if it can be classified as such, does not have the ideological engine that moved the previous one.
“The leftist governments that we have in Latin America today are very different from each other,” Casaroes insisted. “There are authoritarian governments like in Nicaragua and Venezuela, we have leftist populism in Mexico, and relatively weak governments in Chile, Colombia and Argentina.”
A) Yes, Lula -considered a fiscally moderate and pragmatic leftist, rather than a radical or a populist- will have difficulties with any project to promote regional integration.
“It is a less cohesive turn to the left”, said Leonardo Paz, consultant for Brazil of the think tank International Crisis Group.
And Brazil follows this trend after Bolsonaro.
“If Lula is not successful (…), if he does not satisfy the Brazilian voter, they will vote against him (in the next elections) and in favor of someone more to the right”Project.
I, Ronald Payne, am a journalist and author who dedicated his life to telling the stories that need to be said. I have over 7 years of experience as a reporter and editor, covering everything from politics to business to crime.