Lopéz Obrador’s victory: Is the “pink tide” rising again in Latin America?

Latin American progressive movements were removed from power by conservative political parties after the so-called “pink tide” period of 1998-2015

Lopéz Obrador’s victory: Is the “pink tide” rising again in Latin America?
Supporters show a mask representing Presidential Candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador after the polls closed in Mexico's Presidential Elections -Photo: Carlos Jasso/Reuters
English 06/07/2018 14:25 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 14:56

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The stunning victory of leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the general elections last Sunday in Mexico undoubtedly renewed hopes of the Latin American progressive movements, removed from power by conservative political parties after the so-called “pink tideperiod of 1998-2015.

As the region’s second-largest economy, capable of exerting a strong cultural and social influence marked by its commercial integration with North America, Mexico was long considered the exception between the radical Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela and the moderate, center-left Presidents of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez.

The ideological roots of its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean were established after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920).

During the Cold War and the series of military dictatorships which engulfed the region, emanated from the United States’ National Security Doctrine, our country was seen as a beacon of political stability and economic growth, yet its one-party system, based on the PRI’s (Institutional Revolutionary Party) combination of authoritarianism and social-democratic measures showed signs of exhaustion since the 1968 Tlatelolco students massacre and the 1976 peso devaluation.

However, in contrast with Latin America’s gradual return to democracy in the 80s and the frustration caused by the following “lost decade” of painful “structural adjustments” that paved the way to the leftist leaders, the late political transition in Mexico produced a right-wing, free market-oriented new government headed by the PAN (National Action Party) in 2000, thus serving as a significant example of the unique features that each country has in its own development.

The attention of the international community is now turning to Brazil, where the political landscape pose a true enigma.

Voters will elect a new President, State Governors, the Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate on October 7, while polls show half of the country’s population supporting none of the prospective candidates.

Impeachment of Rousseff

Hailed as a model for developing countries due to its success reducing extreme poverty, to the extent that Mexican political scientist Jorge Castañeda—former advisor of PAN presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya—used to call it the “good left” to distinguish it from the Cuban and Venezuelan-style “bad left,” the 13 years of Workers Party (PT) rule in Brazil ended in disaster with the 2016 impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff on charges of budget manipulation.

Rousseff’s popular predecessor in the Alvorada Palace, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced in April to 12 years in prison for money laundering and passive corruption related to the Lava-Jato (Car Wash) scandal of bribes at the state-oil company Petrobras.

Lula is barred from running due to an anti-corruption bill that he himself signed into law in 2010.

There is expectation, nevertheless, that the Supreme Federal Court may order Lula’s release from jail as he appeals the ruling against him before August 15, when he will be registered formally as a candidate.

Emerging from the deepest recession in Brazilian history, current President Michel Temer, elected in 2014 as Rousseff running-mate, has only a 3% approval rating and the outlook for his conservative camp is gloomy, according to Datafolha institute.

When Lula is included in the candidates’ list, he leads the polls with 30%, followed by 21% casting blank and spoiled ballots and 17% for the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

Given Lula’s exclusion, 34% said they would spoil ballots, with a small group migrating to Bolsonaro, giving him 19%.

A growing disappointment also prevails among voters in Argentina, where former Buenos Aires Mayor and conservative entrepreneur Mauricio Macri was elected in 2015 with the mandate of resuming economic expansion after the end of the China-driven commodities boom, one of the main reasons behind the decline of the “pink tide” in South America.

Although former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was indicted for fraud for conspiring with her Public Works secretary to steal millions of dollars, her Peronist Front for Victory’s perspectives ahead of the October 2019 general elections have improved in the face of massive public spending cuts and increases to public utility rates.

Macri’s actions to strengthen the peso and block the flight of capital have so far failed, despite the approval of a USD $50 billion support package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the maintenance of sky-high 40% domestic interest rates.

The IMF is one of the most despised international bodies in Argentina.

For instance, its reform package implemented in 2000 at the behest of then-President Fernando de la Rúa raised the poverty level from 35% to 54%, in the ensuing months, the economic crisis led to a banking panic and a political crisis with five presidents in ten days until the election of the late Néstor Kirchner, husband of the current Federal Senator.

In other countries, the conservative parties are performing better and retaining power in the light of fresh challenges from the left.

In Chile, former president and businessman Sebastian Piñera was elected in 2017, while Colombia’s Democratic Center candidate, Iván Duque, won the presidency against Gustavo Petro of the Progressive Movement in a second-round election on June.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen