Latin American politics have not moved en bloc for half a decade. On the contrary, it is driven by local dynamics. In this time there was no conservative return or turn to the left, but rather a divided region. The pandemic has only deepened what some analysts have called “Latin American emptying“In other words, the deliberate inability of governments to coordinate policies.
Last year, the left won in countries where they had not reached before. Gabriel Boric did it in Chile, Pedro Castillo in Peru, Xiomara Castro in Honduras. The case of Nicaragua deserves a separate chapter.RELATED
Nine of the 20 countries that make up the region are in the hands of parties ranging from the moderate center-left to the radical left, while in seven of the 20 the right governs. In the rest, the categories of ideological closeness are a little more complex to define. Of the nine countries where the right governs, two will have elections this year: Colombia and Brazil. The eventual victory of the progressive candidates could change the scene for the left in Latin America.
On March 29, the deadline for the registration of candidates that will fight for the presidency on May 29 expires. The leftist senator Gustavo Petro, of the Historical Pact, outperforms the rest of the possible candidates. It’s not the first time. Already in 2018, Petro came to dispute the second round with the current president Iván Duque.
Although Petro is the one who measures best, for some analysts there are still no conditions to affirm his triumph. Opinion studies suggest that if the presidential elections were today, there is a high probability that Petro will go to the second round, as happened in 2018, and in that scenario a more moderate candidate such as Sergio Fajado could be favored.
“The two great coalitions that have been organized outside the Petro Historical Pact and the picturesque and striking candidacy of the septuagenarian former mayor of Bucaramanga, Rodolfo Hernández, have not defined their candidates. It is possible that an opponent closer to the center could capitalize on the fear that Petro generates and lead him to win the first round, but lose the presidency, “says Víctor Mijares, professor of Political Science at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.
The Petro victory would be as news for Colombian politics as Boric’s victory in Chile has been. Colombia is a country where in the last century only two major parties, one from the center and the other from the right, have alternated in power. A victory for the left would be historic and would represent an incalculable advance for the Latin American left.
In Brazil, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva duplicates Bolsonaro in voting intention. The difference with the current president is so high that if the election were this Sunday, Lula could be imposed in the first round.
The victories of Petro in Colombia and of Lula in Brazil would leave the left and the center-left in charge of six of the largest economies in the region.
In Chile, the Frente Amplio government takes office on March 11. Boric’s victory comes as a breath of fresh air for the left in L atin America. Neither Boric in Chile nor Pedro Castillo in Peru have been part of the “pink tide” of the center-left in Latin America and that gives them a blank card about the form they will take.
For Philip Kitzberger, professor of Contemporary Latin American Politics at the Torcuato Di Tella University, both the cases of Peru and Chile are novel compared to cases such as Luis Arce in Bolivia, Alberto Fernández in Argentina and even a potential return of Lula da Silva in Brazil. So much so that it is possible to define them as “new left”.
In any case, both cases present political actors with very different origins and trajectories towards power. “In that sense, the novelty unites them, but they are different. In any case, this heterogeneity, as in the beginning of 2000, would not prevent them from identifying as part of a left in Latin America,” says Kitzberger.
Although the return of Lula in Brazil or the victory of Petro in Colombia can hardly be considered representatives of the “new left”, they do show different characteristics from the previous decade.
“Petro is the product of a process of demobilization of the urban guerrilla of the M19. He has held diplomatic positions, has been a representative in the Chamber of Bogotá and in the Congress of the Republic, as well as mayor of Bogotá, senator and this is his third candidacy presidential “, Mijares reviews.
For the Colombian, Petro is part of a traditional Latin American left. These left also share that they arrive more because of the rejection against who governs than because of an endorsement of their ideas. “The economic crisis and the pandemic have meant that anyone who is in the opposition has a chance to succeed whoever is ruling,” says the professor.
Finally, winning an election is not synonymous with being able to govern in Latin America. “Economic restrictions and a more polarized and toxic political environment with a new, more mobilized right wing that makes the governance scenario difficult,” explains Kitzberger.
Costa Rica is on the list of the three Latin American countries that will have presidential elections this year. 25 candidates will fight for the place of the center president, Carlos Andrés Alvarado Quesada, who is not in a position to renew his mandate.
The center-right candidate, former president José María Figueres leads the voting intention with 17%, followed by former center-right vice-president Lineth Saborío, with 15%. In any case, the data is that less than a month before the elections, 40% of the voters are presented as undecided.
The February 6 elections will not reach the political dimension of those in Brazil or Colombia, but they will have an impact in Central America as they arrive to close a reconfiguration in local politics.
A few months before the presidential elections in Honduras and Nicaragua, the Costa Rican elections may be linked to the delicate democratic situation that ranges from the concentration of power of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador to the autocratic government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.
“The arrival of Xiomara Castro generates hope for the left around the idea that unity and perseverance make strength,” says Julieta Rostica, coordinator of the Central American Studies Group at the University of Buenos Aires. “In Guatemala, for example, the fragmentation of the left, center-left and progressive parties only leads to the systematic triumph of conservatism.”
Venezuela and Nicaragua will continue to be the stone in the shoe for the left in Latin America. However, for several analysts like Rostica, the limit should be in the violation of human rights. “I think there should be a clear stance on the Latin American left on the issue,” says the researcher.