Latin America is looking left

Article published on June 5, 2006
community published
Article published on June 5, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A wave of victories for left-wing candidates is shaking the political landscape of Latin America. We take a journey left through six Latin American countries in the 21 century

Despite being part of the same political family, the left in Latin America is divided into two fronts. The first want to respect the currently existing economic order, exemplified by Chilean socialism. The other is dissident and interventionist, and it exemplified by the Venezuela of Chavez. In the middle is a grey zone, composed of those countries still in a period of transition.

Evo Morales: the socialist in power

Evo Morales will be remembered as the first indigenous man to become the President of Bolivia since the country’s independence. Born into a small Aymaran community, the former coca plantation worker and union member has lived close to the principal problems in Bolivia: extreme poverty (76.5% of Bolivians are poor according to ECLAC - the Economic Commission for Latin America), the high level of rural illiteracy, and the problems involving the cultivation of the coca leaf. Since Morales came to power he has nationalised energy assets, occupied the refineries of foreign companies and instituted land redistribution. The occupation of the assets of Spanish and Brazilian companies has caused a great deal of concern in the business world. How Evo Morales presents himself in future will be a matter of some importance.

Bachelet: Chile’s first female president

Chile is becoming the richest and most European of the Latin American countries. It is a shining example of a country obediently following the dictates of the IMF and World Bank. Along with Brazil, it has the highest level of inequality on the continent. Even though the reign of the veteran socialist Ricardo Lagos has seen inequality reduced, the fight for equal opportunities will be the main challenge of Chile’s first female President, the Socialist Michelle Bachelet. In a country in which the image of Pinochet is diminishing little by little, the rise of a president who was a victim of torture could finally finish the process of reconciliation of Chilean society.

Peru: the ring of the left

The 4 June saw social democrat Alain Garcia win a convincing victory in Peru’s election. Garcia has previously been president during a decade of misrule and corruption accusations.

At stake in this election were two different ways of understanding the left. In beating Ollanta Humala, the Peruvian National Party candidate strongly backed by Hugo Chavez, Peru has shown its preference for a model which accepts the interests of foreign business, rather like the Chilean model.

Chávez: A media president

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez does not mince his words. From his television programme Hello President, he has ferociously criticised all the liberal governments of the continent, beginning with President George W. Bush. Chávez’s power lies in his ability to appeal to the large section of the poor and underprivileged in Venezuelan society. Given the large amount of oil money available to the Venezuelan regime, he has been able to effect widespread changes. The current rise in oil prices means Venezuela has the potential to become an authentic regional power. His critics, however, say that Venezuela intervenes too much in the politics of other countries.

Lula: is the power killing the magic?

When Luis Inacio de Lula Silva came to power 2002, he represented hope for both for millions of working class Brazilians and the central financial and economic powers facing uncertainty. There were three basic promises by the leader of the Worker’s Party: an end to misery by starting the programme Zero Hunger, create better living conditions, and promote economic growth. Lula’s work has not been easy. If on the one hand he has eased the worries of business by ensuring an economic continuity with the previous government, on the other he has also made himself an enemy of the left within his own party that accuse him of carrying out reforms more appropriate of a conservative party. He has also survived numerous corruption scandals within his own party. Yet Lula is clinging on to two lifelines: the programme Zero Hunger is beginning to show results in the reduction of misery and inequality, and Brazilian growth in 2005 was 4.9%.

López Obrador: First the poor

The rise to presidency of the conservative Vicente Fox in 2000 opened the way to political alternatives in Mexico. However, the victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the progressive candidate of the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) in the next presidential elections on July 2 2006 could signify the end of dominance of the PAN, Fox's party. Obrador's public social work has given him real prestige, only stained by accusations of corruption by co-workers. His programme of fighting poverty and discrimination in the indigenous towns has caused a lot of suspicion from the bourgeois, the Mexican right, but also the extreme left which has branded him as a “populist” politician. The latest opinion polls anticipate a final campaign shock: the PAN candidate Felipe Calderón, at present leads López Obrador by 4 points.

Copyright: Presidency of Bolivia (Morales); Presidency of Chile/Nancy Costes (Bachelet); Chmouel Boudjnah (Mach Piccu peru); Marcello Casal Jr/ABr (Chavez); Antonio Cruz/ABr (Lula); Gustavo Benítez (Obrador).