We are witnessing a revolution, it seems. The six largest countries on the Latin American continent have moved to the left, a left of words and promises which, unsurprisingly, is already proving untenable. In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, has been president since 2018. A career politician, he renounced his socialist commitments at the start of his presidency to save the country’s ruined public finances. But other less experienced left-wing leaders, prisoners of their ideology and their programs, as generous as they are demagogic, are already facing the wall of reality: the economy does not lie.
The electoral success of these left-wing leaders owes to their promises to redress indisputable historical grievances. In Peru, for example, it was a satisfaction for many to see a young peasant son, Pedro Castillo, promise to feed everyone and guarantee everyone equal access to education and health care. In a country where the prosperous ruling elites have always forgotten the poor, usually indigenous or mestizo, wasn’t Castillo the epitome of justice? The situation in Chile is similar: Gabriel Boric, a former student leader, upsets a worn-out political class that defined itself either for or against Augusto Pinochet, while showing no concern at all for the poor, especially the indigenous, such as the Mapuche of Patagonia and the southwest. In Colombia, Gustavo Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla, was already in legislative power, but he was the first in his country to address the immense black and mestizo population, hitherto ignored by the revolutionaries as much as by the bourgeoisie of Bogotá. and Medellin. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández is supposedly on the left, but he is above all a Peronist. Peronism is defined by the art of emptying the public treasury to redistribute it to party clients – until the day when the accounts are empty, the local money has lost all value, and the only recourse is to call in the fire brigade of the International. Monetary Fund.
In Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, who will probably return to the presidency in November, embodies European-style social democracy, backed by the most competent and least corrupt administration in Latin America. But Lula’s reputation is essentially based on luck. His first two terms, 2003-2011, coincided with a sharp rise in the price of raw materials that Brazil exports (particularly soy) and a fall in the price of imported fertilizers. Lula widely distributed this windfall in the form of social and educational projects, which led to the emergence of a new middle class. This scenario also benefited Argentina, Peru and Chile. Since the whole continent depends on the export of a limited number of raw materials (Chile alone has found a way to diversify), good presidents are those who have been lucky enough to take office when prices were rising.
Unfortunately for the new wave of the left, export prices are falling, while the price of imported oil and fertilizers is rising. Global inflation and the war in Ukraine are hitting the continent hard. Added to this is the financial and health cost of the Covid pandemic, which is far from over in countries without solid health infrastructure. As a result, these leaders’ promises of social benefits are untenable and the new middle classes face imminent regression.
The peoples of these countries react by disavowing their new leaders. In Peru, Castillo’s approval rating fell to 19%. In Chile, the Mapuche, to whom Boric had promised everything, revolt, forcing the president to send the army. The worst is yet to come: Boric has called for a vote in September on a new constitution, a monstrous document that guarantees everything to everyone, with a strong tinge of environmentalism. It will probably be rejected by referendum, leading to an institutional crisis. In Santiago and Bogotá, where protests are traditionally directed against the right when it is in power, people are now protesting against what they see as a betrayal of the left, and social media is fueling frustration. In Colombia, people were agitated even before the inauguration of the new president on August 7.
Caught between inflation, falling public revenues and its own demagogy, the new left risks being crushed. But who will benefit from his disappearance? Military coups and the return of the caudillos are not out of the question. What about the right? The extreme right, Catholic and deeply conservative, remains powerful, but it lives on nostalgia for a Latin America where only well-to-do white people are heard. As for the liberal right, as embodied by former President Sebastián Piñera in Chile, its electoral base is narrow, and it seems more attentive to the support of private entrepreneurs than to the forgotten masses and indigenous peoples, in particular. This is why the self-proclaimed liberal Mauricio Macri was not re-elected in Argentina: he tended to confuse the presidential palace with his personal polo club.
One would think that the destruction of the economy and the rule of law by left-wing dictators in Venezuela and Cuba would prevent other Latin American countries from emulating Marxist rhetoric. This is not the case, however, as each country on the continent is self-centered and rarely looks beyond its borders. “Latin America” is an abstract concept that does not take into account the individuality of its nations.
I will refrain from giving advice to the peoples of Latin America, who value their national dignity and sovereignty. But from Buenos Aires to Mexico, the situation is perilous, and wisdom has no apparent representation.
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