Buenos Aires Weather | Will 2022 be a year of consolidation for the Latin American left?


Four Latin American countries have held presidential elections in 2021: Ecuador, Peru, Honduras and Chile. With the exception of the first, which was won by right-wing leader Guillermo Lasso, the successful candidates in the other three belonged to left-wing parties, coalitions or fronts, whose governments will join other existing left-wing presidencies in the region. As the year begins, eyes will be on three key electoral processes: first in Costa Rica and then, with even greater attention, in Colombia and Brazil, where once again the most progressive options are currently in lead in the polls. Will 2022 be the year of the consolidation of the left in Latin America?

The past year will be remembered as a marathon year in electoral terms for the region, with the victories of leftist leaders Pedro Castillo in Peru and Gabriel Boric in Chile. Thus, the successive victories of these candidates seem to bear witness to a period of consolidation of the left in Latin America, which began in 2018 with the coming to power of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, followed by the center left leader Laurentino Cortizo in Panama in 2019 and Luis Arce in Bolivia in 2020.

And 2022 could be the year of the culmination of the ideological pendulum, especially with the upcoming elections in Colombia and Brazil. In the first case, current polls show that Gustavo Petro, the economist and former mayor of Bogota with a militant and guerrilla past, could put an end to the four years in office of current President Iván Duque. Uribism, although in a likely second round. A victory for Petro would not only add another country to the chessboard of nations ruled by left-leaning leaders, but would also be unprecedented: it would be the first time that a candidate with this ideological position would be elected president of Colombia.

In Brazil, the presidential election scheduled for October is centered on the two main candidates: former President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and current President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking re-election. Polls suggest the race could be settled in a possible run-off on October 30 with a possible victory, according to the latest figures, projected for the veteran candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT).

But does this consolidation of the left mean ideological and programmatic unity? Not necessarily – while it is true that the president of Peru and the president-elect of Chile, to name just two cases, both claim to be left-wing candidates, there is not a complete homogeneity in their visions. , their values ​​and their public policies. While Pedro Castillo is suspected of having links with Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Petro is a former M-19 guerrilla, Chile’s new leader Gabriel Boric has repeatedly spoken out against political violence and, contrary, is probably closer to López Obrador than to Castillo and Petro.

On the other hand, while the president-elect of Chile wants to move towards greater recognition of social rights, especially for minorities and dissidents (as was the case with Lula in Brazil), Pedro Castillo remains an absolutely conservative personality on these issues. . However, there is also a curious similarity between several of these new leftist figures, especially Boric and Petro: both have positioned themselves politically as relevant actors after the social uprisings in their countries and represent a burnout of the political class in their two nations. And in terms of international cooperation, there is also a link that runs through: most leftist governments have expressed interest in deepening productive and technological ties with China.

What are the causes of this potential consolidation in the region? First, the ideological process in Latin America is a swinging pendulum and it is not surprising that after several governments tied to right-wing and center-right positions, citizens are once again turning to the left. But there are also other factors in the region that help us understand why candidates whose proposals differ from incumbent governments win.

For starters, many consultancies are reporting the existence of discontent in society, especially among the middle classes, with the handling of the pandemic by various governments, many of them right-wing. This applies in particular to the cases of Bolsonaro and Duque. In the wake of the Covid crisis, a growing number of citizens are demanding the establishment of larger social safety nets to deal with the pandemic and greater state presence at all levels, policies generally promised by left-wing candidates in the electoral campaign.

Moreover, and an additional consequence of the pandemic, Latin America is going through a period characterized by increasing inequalities both socio-economically and a huge gap in access to vital rights such as coronavirus vaccines. In terms of poverty, a recent ECLAC/ECLAC report (from 2021) revealed that 33.7% of the Latin American population is poor and that 40.7% suffer from serious or severe food insecurity – figures that have been increasing since then. 2017.

In some cases, these socio-economic crises dating back to a few years ago have led to outbreaks of social unrest, as happened in Peru, Colombia and Chile, where the leaders in power found themselves with approval ratings hovering around historic lows, as in the case of Sebastien Piñera. Criticism of right-wing governments has led not only to social unrest but also to the questioning of traditional leaderships, which has given rise to the emergence of new figures who have emerged to challenge existing structures.

If the predictions come true, there will be a shift from right to left in at least four countries within a few months: Honduras, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. But above all, we must look not only at the number of countries that will turn to the left, but also at their relative weight in the political configuration of the region, particularly in the case of Brazil. Will these new governments be able to meet the expectations of a society dissatisfied with the political class in place? If we will have to wait a few months to find out, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. New presidencies face a complex social situation with levels of poverty at their highest level in two decades, while the price of raw materials which exploded 20 years ago and allowed progressive governments to implement interventionist policies is now suffering the consequences of a global production crisis.

* Degree in Political Science (UCA). Researcher at the Center for International Studies of the Catholic University of Argentina (CEI-UCA).

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