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The Rise of Left-Wing Governments in Latin America: Is There a Second Pink Tide?


At the beginning of the 2000s, the emergence of left-wing governments constituted a widespread trend, which is called Pink Tide. Even though the dimensions of their ideological and practical policies could change whether they were moderate or radical left, all of them refused neoliberal economic policies. The economic boom helped governments to implement their social reforms and investments.


However, at the beginning of the subsequent decade, the revenues from the economic boom reversed and governments were getting delicate to adopt new international economic conditions. Therefore, economic crises took place and some political crises such as corruption scandals in Brazil were experienced in that period. Therefore, it was a direction of traditional or conservative leaders and governments instead of progressive ones in most of the countries of the region in the 2010s. Brazil demonstrates one of the most important transformations of a government ideologically and politically as Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018. The right-wing governments tried to reverse the policies, which were implemented before. They pursued privatisation, reduced social spending and removed barriers to international trade.


On the other hand, Covid-19 Pandemic and related economic problems paved the way for the re-emergence of leftist governments in the region. The fact that the countries have been strongly dependent on international economic conditions led to radical ideological changes in governments in the political spectrum. This article will be briefly examined newly elected leftist governments such as Chile, Brazil, etc. in the context of response to the pandemic. Finally, it will be discussed whether the new leftist trend can be deemed as the second Pink Tide across the region by taking into account the linkage of the region’s economic conditions with the international sphere.


Figure 1 (from left to right): Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Lula de Silva in 2000s.

Covid-19 and its Economic Impacts on Latin America

Covid-19 has changed dramatically the region’s economic and political circumstances. After the outbreak of the pandemic, global real and financial markets have weakened and it has had negative impacts on the currencies of developing economies. Therefore, significant capital outflows have been experienced. The fact that the downturn of commodity prices for the countries, which are dependent on big economic powers such as the US and China, decreased export revenues. Finally, almost all countries across the globe implemented restrictions on the mobility of people. Consequently, tourism revenues fell drastically for the region (Ullrich, 2020:1).


These international economic conditions were important in how the governments in Latin America responded to the pandemic. Some governments have not taken serious precautions to prevent the virus. Brazil’s leader Bolsonaro has been strictly criticised for ignoring the pandemic (BBC,2020). Concerning the global crisis, the region suffered immediate negative impacts of the pandemic economically. Unemployment and poverty increased and because of the recession of supply chain mechanisms many people were doomed to starvation. According to the UN data, the rate of living hunger increased by 13.8 million in comparison with the previous year from the pandemic (Lima, 2022). Moreover, rising inequality across the region caused that poor people’s access to public health facilities to weaken. As can be seen in Peru’s example, the mortality rates have increased drastically. Finally, the Covid 19 restrictions have also harmed the household incomes of poor people to earn money. Therefore, they have not been able to meet their livelihood demands (Ullrich, 2020: 4). For instance, Chile’s unemployment rate increased from 7.22 in 2019 to 10.77 in 2020. Likewise, Costa Rica witnessed a dramatic increase to 19.61, which was almost twofold from the previous year (OECD, 2020). Consequently, many governments have been criticised for failing to tackle the economic impacts of the pandemic.


Figure 2: Protests against the Government in Latin America during Pandemic.

Social Mobilisations and Re-emergence of Left-Wing Governments

The government’s policies against the pandemic have been protested with social mobilisations. The masses found the economic policies of their government deficient to tackle rising unemployment and inflation. Due to the fact that there is a lack of strong institutional mechanisms to implement redistributive policies, the masses started to support the leaders, who designated themselves progressive and pro-welfare states. In this respect, some countries such as Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Peru etc. have experienced strong transformations after the elections since 2020.


Chile

During the process of Covid-19 restrictions, lots of people protested the right-wing Sebastian Pinera government because of his failure of dealing with unemployment, the rising cost of living, and corruption. Therefore, he was forced to be sanctioned by Constituent Assembly (Lima, 2022).


December 2021 presidential elections constituted a significant turning point in Chilean History. As a left-origin young leader, Gabriel Boric obtained %56 of votes against his conservative opponent and became the youngest president in Chilean History (Al Jazeera, 2021). Moreover, since the Pinochet dictatorship, it is the first time a leftist president has been elected in Chile.


Boric pledged to implement progressive economic policies, unlike previous governments based on Pinochet’s neoliberal reforms. He promised to end up privatisation of the pension system and aimed to reduce inequality with social spending of the state after he had been elected (Guardian, 2021).



Figure 3: Gabriel Boric New Chilean President.

Colombia

Colombia has also witnessed one of the most significant transformations in its history with the election of the first leftist president Gustavo Petro in 2022. Before the 2022 elections, conservative governments have always tried to deal with the protests of the masses against rising inequality, and corruption (Lima, 2022).


After the outbreak of Covid 19 pandemic, the unemployment rate skyrocketed from 9.9 to about 16 a twofold increase (CEPAL, 2020). The immediate deterioration in the labour market along with the conservative government’s failure to deal with this issue led to masses to protest radically the government.


In 2022, Gustavo Petro received 62% of votes against his opponent and became the first leftist president in Colombian history. The main objectives of Petro are to reduce income inequality by implementing social reforms and maintaining peaceful conditions in the country (The NY Times, 2022).


Figure 4: Gustavo Petro New Colombian President.

Brazil

Since Bolsonaro has been elected in the 2018 elections, Brazil has witnessed political tensions considerably. Bolsonaro, as an extremist right-wing president, opposed any kind of social welfare policies and abstained from taking precautions and implementing policies during the Covid 19 pandemic. In particular, he has been strictly criticised for ignoring the pandemic despite the huge number of deaths surpassing half a million.


In the 2022 elections, Lula de Silva, who was president between 2003-2011 but was impeached for corruption became a candidate again. After the rising tensions in election campaigns, Lula de Silva obtained %50.9 of the votes against Bolsonaro in the second round as a narrow win and became president again in Brazil (CNN, 2022). Like his first term in office, he promised to implement progressive, social policies, unlike Bolsonaro.


Figure 5: Lula de Silva after 2022 Elections in Brazil.

Finally, briefly, Peru’s catastrophic damage based on Covid 19 pandemic, has changed the social and economic dynamics. The collapse of the health system and considerably higher mortality rates caused strong critiques against the current government. In the 2021 presidential elections, Pedro Castillo as a leftist candidate gained the presidency with a narrow win against his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori (Washington Post, 2021).


Conclusion: Second Pink Tide?

With Pink Tide, which emerged in the early 2000s, many leftist governments made significant changes in regional politics. The second wave of leftist governments in the new millennium is connected with the circumstances of the global economy like the first one. However, it is so early to designate the new leftist trend of Latin America as a second Pink Tide. First of all, new left-wing leaders are avoiding pointing out radical left discourses, unlike previous periods such as Chavez in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in Bolivia. They are trying to pursue much more moderate social policies to tackle with negative impacts of Covid 19 pandemic. Even new Chilean President Boric designates those radical leftists such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua as "failing experiments" (Linthicum & Wilkinson, 2022).


Secondly, political and regime crises have always been seen in Latin American history. Uncertain political conditions also create regime crises. Nowadays, new Peruvian president Pedro Castillo was arrested and his vice president Dina Boluarte declared her as the new president. Those kinds of unstable and uncertain political conditions do not make us determine easily whether there is a new political trend or not in the region.


Overall, it should be kept in mind that Latin American countries have been vulnerable to dramatic changes in the international economy. These significant political changes should be seen in the relations of the international environment. Because social forces and domestic developments are always intertwined with each other in the international sphere as Robert Cox (1981) said.


Bibliographical References

Al Jazeera (December 2021). Gabriel Boric wins Chile’s presidential election. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/20/gabriel-boric-wins-chiles-presidential-election

BBC (April 2020). Coronavirus advice ignored by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-latin-america-52367849

CEPAL (2022). Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2021, ECLAC.

CNN (2022). Lula da Silva will return to Brazil’s presidency in stunning comeback. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/10/30/americas/brazil-election-lula-da-silva-wins-intl/index.html


Cox, R. W. (1981). Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory. Millennium, 10(2), 126–155. https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298810100020501

Lima, V. (2022). A second 'Pink Tide’ rises in Latin America, but will it last https://theloop.ecpr.eu/a-second-pink-tide-rises-in-latin-america-but-will-it-last/

Los Angeles Times (2022). The left now rules most of Latin America. Will it be able to live up to its promises? https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-11-03/the-left-has-swept-into-power-across-latin-america

OECD Data. Unemployment Rates. https://data.oecd.org/unemp/unemployment-rate.htm

The Guardian (2021). Gabriel Boric vows to ‘fight privileges of the few’ as Chile’s president.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/20/gabriel-boric-vows-to-fight-privileges-of-the-few-as-chiles-premier


The New York Times (2022). Colombia Presidential Election Colombia Election: Gustavo Petro Makes History in Presidential Victory. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/06/19/world/colombia-election-results

The Washington Post (2021). Pedro Castillo finally declared winner of Peru’s presidential election. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/19/castillo-wins-peru-election/

Ullrich, K. (2020). Economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latin America. KfW Research, Focus on Economics, No: 287

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