The Pink Tide Rises Again - The Possible Return of the Left in Latin America

A brief analysis of the Latin American Left and its recent resurgence in light of the Peruvian elections.

On the 6th of June, Pedro Castillo, a school teacher and trade union leader born to illiterate parents, won the presidency of Peru. This election is just one of a handful of recent victories by the Left in Latin America, seeing the possible return of the ‘pink tide’ to the region. In a continent, ravaged by neoliberal austerity and fascist violence, with brutal regimes supported by the American empire, these glimmers of hope breathe life into the social movement within it and around the world to continue the struggle for freedom and socialism. 

Taking Stock of Wins

The Left’s recent resurgence began with the defeat of Jeanine Anez, the illegitimate president of Bolivia who was brought to power by a US-backed coup. Luis Arce, successor to Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous and leader of the Movement for Socialism, won a resounding victory against the brutal and pro-capitalist regime of Anez. Argentina similarly saw the return of the centre-left party to power, rejecting the market fundamentalism and austerity imposed in the midst of a pandemic by the previous president Mauricio Macri. 

The election of Pedro Castillo comes after many decades of pro-market, neoliberal governments in Peru, with the zenith being the authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori (1990 - 2000). These policies have resulted in massive inequality and immense poverty, particularly amongst the rural population. With most of Peru’s living presidents having done or are facing prison time for corruption, the people have had enough. Castillo, with an agenda of socialism and anti-imperialism, came in first place among eighteen candidates in the first round with 19%. He would ultimately go on to win a very close second round against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former autocrat. Castillo would gain much of his support from the rural poor and working classes, putting him over the edge of victory as the counting was drawing to a close. 

Rays of Hope on the Horizon

Chile, what some consider the birthplace of neoliberalism, recently concluded an election for representatives to rewrite its constitution. This election saw the Left gain a massive majority, a direct rejection of the long reign of market capitalism by the people. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was recently released from prison and acquitted of criminal charges -- all of it falsely engineered by the disgruntled Brazillian elite -- allowing him to run for the presidency again. Lula, leader of the Workers’ Party and responsible for lifting millions out of poverty, is set to beat the sitting fascist president Jair Bolsonaro, with 55% against his 32% in a head-to-head matchup. 

In a still ongoing Mexican election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his party are on course to maintain their majority in congress but they are set to lose their supermajority. Although this puts constitutional changes out of reach, the Mexican Left will be able to continue the fight and solidify their gains. For all the issues and internal missteps by Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro, the country still holds firm in the face of US-sponsored coups and economic violence, attempting to carry on the legacy of the man who kicked off the ‘pink tide’ movement, Hugo Chavez. 

Setbacks and Resistance

The long history of US intervention on behalf of capitalist interests, both its own and the local compradors, in the region has meant the peoples of Latin America face untold violence in their struggle for freedom. In Colombia, one corrupt regime after another, each backed by the West in its fruitless War on Drugs, maintains the state of mass poverty, illiteracy and inequality while its elite and multinationals take off with the spoils. The Colombian people are protesting in the street and are continuing their general strike against the neoliberal order, even in the face of deadly state violence against them. In Ecuador, the leftist president Lenin Moreno, took a sharp turn to the right, pursuing privatisation and anti-labour legislation, betraying his 2017 electoral mandate and reversing the gains of his predecessor, Rafael Correa. Last month, the presidential election went to the forces of the Right, in part a result of Lenin’s policy turn. 

The Future of the Latin American Left 

Let us be clear, these left and centre-left governments have by no means ushered in the socialist utopia. They continue to struggle within a capitalist system, domestically and globally, and grapple with underdevelopment and external attacks from the imperialist centre. Yet, they are nonetheless willing to stand up for their people who have long suffered terrible immiseration. These experiments in 21st-century socialism and democratic expansion are important sites of learning and analysis for the Left globally. But more than that, they serve as inspirations for those of us who know that another world is possible. Though it might be premature to say this is the return of the ‘pink tide’, there is certainly reason for optimism.

Originally published in Jentayu.