The Historical Turn Of Colombia And The Rise Of The New Left In Latin America

The historical turn of Colombia and the rise of the new left in Latin America

Gustavo Petro made history last week after defeating populist Rodolfo Hernández and becoming the first leftist president in Colombian history. Three months earlier, Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old who led the student protests in Chile, became president after defeating far-right José Antonio Kast. Both represent a new left in the continent that marks clear distances from old models such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Asked if he recognized himself as one of the leftist rulers of Latin America, boric said: “In the case of Nicaragua I can’t find anything, and in the case of Venezuela it is an experience that has failed.” Petro too it has been very direct: “In Venezuela as in Nicaragua there is no socialism, what there is is the use of a leftist rhetoric of the 20th century to cover up an oligarchy that steals the State, a minority that governs for itself and violates the rights of the majority “.


“There is an emergence of a new left with a less polarizing discourse,” says Anna Ayuso, senior researcher at the thinktank CIDOB from Barcelona. “One of the things about the candidates of the left now is that they avoid identifying with Venezuela, for example. It is a left that presents itself more as a social democrat. They denounce unequal social and economic structures, but they flee from those radicalisms.”

Even so, Ayuso believes that the rise of these leaders can favor ways to resolve the conflict in Venezuela and Nicaragua. “The fact that there are more leftist leaders can lead to a greater dialogue being opened and such aggressive positions being abandoned. The Colombia thing is very important because it had one of the most aggressive speeches,” he says. Emir Sader, a well-known Brazilian philosopher and political scientist, agrees: “Petro intends to normalize these relations and it coincides with a good moment because the US is approaching Maduro on energy issues. It is an international moment favorable to pacification.”

A week after Chile’s first round, leftist Xiomara Castro became Honduras’s first female president, ending 12 years of conservative rule. Her opponents stirred fear of communism and the specter of Venezuela, but Castro came to power in a deal with the center-right Salvador Party, whose leader is now the country’s vice president. “Xiomara Castro’s leftist discourse is not very ideological,” says Ayuso. “In common [con Colombia y Chile] They have the pragmatism and the ability to drag the middle classes along, but they are countries that are not very comparable”.

In addition to these new rulers, the entire continent has in recent years experienced a shift to the left or to “anti-neoliberal” governments, as Sader puts it. “Each one has specific features according to the conditions of the left in each country, but they belong to the same phenomenon of anti-neoliberal governments in Latin America.”

The first of these changes occurred in 2018 with the victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, which represented an important political turn in decades in the country. A year later Alberto Fernández arrived in Argentina and in 2020 it was Bolivia’s turn, where Luis Arce, candidate of Evo Morales’ party, won the elections. Months later, Peru chose Pedro Castillo over Keiko Fujimori, although many analysts affirm that Castillo’s social policy is conservative.

In addition, in October of this year elections are held in Brazil and the progressive candidate Lula da Silva – who has allied himself with the center right and who presents Geraldo Alckmin as vice president, whom he defeated in the 2006 elections – starts as the favorite against the current ultra-conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro. Not counting Brazil, only Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica have markedly conservative governments.

Brazilian deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the president, published a map after hearing the results of the elections in Colombia in which he marked all the countries in the region that, in an exercise of political simplification, he considers communist. “The responsibility of the Brazilian voter only increases. It is no longer just for Brazil, it is for the entire region,” he wrote.

Ayuso points out that the political turn of the continent in the last five years responds to a new “political cycle”. “The previous one was a turn to the right and we come from prec isely the opposite. Alternation is part of a certain democratic health.” The previous cycle began at the turn of the century and was marked by leaders such as Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Lula (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), and Rafael Correa (Colombia), among others. Sader, author of the book Lula and the left of the 21st century,

says that Latin America “is the only region with coordinated anti-neoliberal governments and has become the epicenter of the political struggle of the 21st century.” This, according to him, is a direct consequence of the fact that the continent served in previous decades as a “laboratory for neoliberal experiments.”

“For the first time, the three most important countries in the region, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, can be coordinated, in addition to having the support of Chile, Colombia and others,” says Sader. What needs to be considered now, and he discussed it with García Linera [vicepresidente de Evo Morales], is that it is not just a political coordination. An alternative model and an alternative economic policy must be considered that is not only anti-neoliberal, but post-neoliberal. Fernando Haddad was also in this conversation [ministro durante el mandato de Lula]who was the one who formulated the proposal for a common South American currency that Lula incorporated and that is a beginning of economic integration and would serve to dedollarize South American trade.

That regional cooperation can lead to a body that surpasses the OAS, says Sader. “CELAC is an embryo, but we must have something much more powerful and representative to replace the OAS, whose last chapter was to support the coup in Bolivia.” However, Ayuso considers that “there are not enough conditions” yet, but what has resurfaced is “the need to recover cooperation and regional responses, which are now at a minimum due to polarization.”

“We come from a Summit of the Americas that has been generally interpreted as a failure,” says Ayuso. “There was an exclusion of some States by the United States and what was staged at the summit is that Washington is no longer capable of dragging so much and has lost some influence. At the same time, aware that there would be no great results, the United States bet for regional issues that concern everyone, which confirms that vision that they have realized that with unilateral positions they do not get anywhere and that they have to build a more regional agenda”. “The general reading is that these new leaders can change the discourse and dialogue with the US in a way that is more autonomous, but at the same time, proactive.”

Sader has a different vision: “Latin America alone cannot have a great international force, but if Brazil returns to having a sovereign international policy, it will return to the BRICS, which are the ones that act as a counterweight to the US imperial hegemony, which is in decline. That’s the polarization of the century.” “Europe could be a great ally of Latin America, but with a lack of autonomy from the US, it is very difficult. So Latin America has to seek alliances with the BRICS. Never before in our history has the US been so isolated on the continent”, Add.

“A tremendously interesting axis can be put together,” Boric said in reference to Luis Arce (Bolivia), Lula (Brazil) and Petro (Colombia). Alberto Fernández (Argentina) celebrated Petro’s victory and pointed to this possible alliance: “I hope that little by little Latin America will head towards that place, where we can be united and build the homeland in unity that we need.” “You have to confront that North sensibly and tell it that there is neither South America, nor Africa, nor Asia to support the whims of the North and suffer the costs of its policies,” he added.

Maple (Bolivian) also celebrated the results in Colombia: “Latin American integration is strengthened”. Boric, Castro and Castillo have spoken along the same lines. “We are united by a common feeling that seeks collective, social and regional integration improvements for our peoples,” said the Peruvian president. “We will work together for the unity of our continent in the challenges of a rapidly changing world. We continue!” said the Chilean.

Despite these victories, many of these leaders have faced or will face controversial conservative candidates, many of them populist and even far-right, such as Bolsonaro (Brazil), Rodolfo Hernández (Colombia), José Antonio Kast (Chile) and Keiko Fujimori (Peru), among others. “These types of leaders will continue to be around because they have an audience, but it could be that we are in the cycle of return. The populist discourse has been the dominant one in recent years, both on the left and on the right, and what we see at this moment is an attempt to return to an agenda of proposals and less ideologized, although we cannot forget the number of votes of these leaders”, de Ayuso. “What has happened is a discrediting of the traditional political class. At first it went to more populist and radical sectors, like Bolsonaro, but right now it doesn’t seem like that’s the dominant discourse,” he adds.



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