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The strategic challenge of the Latin American left

banderas americaAfter the long and sad night of neoliberalism in the 1990s – which bankrupted entire nations like Ecuador – and ever since Hugo Chávez was elected President of the Republic of Venezuela at the end of 1998, the right wing and submissive governments of the continent began to collapse like a house of cards, as popular governments, committed to Good Living Socialism, extended across the length and breadth of Our America.

At its peak, in 2009, of the ten Latino countries in South America, eight had left wing governments. Meanwhile, in Central America and the Caribbean there was the Farabundo Martí Front in El Salvador, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Álvaro Colom in Guatemala, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, and Leonel Fernández in the Dominican Republic. In countries like Guatemala, with Álvaro Colom, or Paraguay, with Fernando Lugo, it was the first time in their history that the left had come to power, in the latter case even breaking with centuries of constant bipartisanship.

In May 2008, UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) was born, and in February 2010, CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) was created, with 33 members. Of the 20 Latino countries of CELAC, 14 had left wing governments, that is 70%.

The first part of the 21st century undoubtedly saw years of gains. The economic, social and political advances were historic and amazed the world; all this in an environment of sovereignty, dignity, autonomy, with our own presence on the continent and in the entire world.

Latin America experienced not an era of changes, but a real change of era, which also substantially altered the geopolitical power balance of the region. For this reason, it was essential for the powers that be and the hegemonic countries to put an end to these processes of change that favored the vast majorities, and which sought to secure the region’s second and definitive independence.


Although by 2002, the government of Hugo Chávez had to endure a failed coup d’état, it is really since 2008 that undemocratic attempts to end progressive governments have intensified, as was the case of Bolivia in 2008, Honduras 2009, Ecuador 2010, and Paraguay 2012. Four attempts at destabilization, two of them successful – Honduras and Paraguay – and all against governments of the left.

Starting in 2014, and taking advantage of the change in the economic cycle, these disjointed destabilization efforts consolidated and constituted a true “conservative restoration,” with never before seen right wing coalitions, international support, unlimited resources, external financing, and so on. The revival of the right has deepened and has no limits or scruples. Today, we have the economic boycott and harassment of Venezuela, the parliamentary coup in Brazil, and the judicialization of politics – “lawfare” –, as shown by the cases of Dilma and Lula in Brazil, Cristina in Argentina, and Vice President Jorge Glas in Ecuador. The attempts to destroy UNASUR and neutralize CELAC are also evident and, not infrequently, brazen. Not to mention what is happening in MERCOSUR. Attempts to overcome the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement at the beginning of the century are seen in the Pacific Alliance.

In South America, at present, only three progressive governments remain: Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay. The eternal powers that have always dominated Latin America, and that plunged it into backwardness, inequality and underdevelopment, return with a thirst for revenge, after more than a decade of continuous defeats.


The reactionary strategy is articulated regionally and is based on two fundamental pillars: the supposed failure of the left economic model, and the alleged lack of moral fiber of progressive governments.

Regarding the first pillar, since the second half of 2014, due to an adverse international environment, the entire region suffered an economic slowdown that turned into a recession in the last two years.

The results are different between countries and sub-regions, reflecting the different economic structures and economic policies applied, but the economic difficulties of countries like Venezuela or Brazil are taken as an example of the failure of socialism, even when Uruguay, with a leftist government, is the most developed country south of the Rio Grande, or when Bolivia has the best macroeconomic indicators on the planet.

The second pillar of the new strategy against progressive governments is morality. The issue of corruption has become the effective tool to destroy the national-popular political processes in Our America. The most emblematic case is that of Brazil, where a well-articulated political operation succeeded in removing Dilma Rousseff from the Presidency, only to be shown to have nothing to do with the issues that she was accused of.

There is great global hypocrisy surrounding the fight against corruption.


The left is perhaps also a victim of its own success. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), almost 94 million people were lifted out of poverty and joined the regional middle class during the last decade, the vast majority as a result of the policies of left governments.

In Brazil, 37.5 million rose above the poverty line between 2003 and 2013, and now form part of the middle class, but those millions were not a mobilized force when a Parliament itself accused of corruption impeached Dilma Rousseff.

We have people who overcame poverty and now – due to what is often called objective prosperity and subjective poverty – despite having seen their income level greatly improve, ask for much more, and they feel poor, not in reference to what they have, worse still to what they had, but to what they aspire.

The left has always struggled against the current, at least in the western world. The question is, is it fighting against human nature?

The problem is much more complex if we add to this the hegemonic culture constructed by the media, in the Gramscian sense, that is, to have made the wishes of the masses functional to the interests of the elites.

Our democracies should be called media democracies. The mass media are a more important component in the political process than the parties and electoral systems; they have become the main opposition parties to progressive governments; and they are the true representatives of business and conservative political power.

It does not matter what suits the majorities, what has been proposed in the election campaign, and what the people – the principal element in every democracy – have decided at the polls. The important thing is what the media approve or disapprove in their headlines. They have replaced the Rule of Law with the Rule of Opinion.


The regional left faces the problems of exercising – or having exercised – power, often successfully, but exhaustingly.

It is impossible to govern by pleasing everyone, and even more so when so much social justice is required.

We must always be self-critical, but it’s also about having faith in ourselves. Progressive governments are under constant attack, the elites and their media do not forgive us any error, they seek to lower our morale, make us doubt our convictions, proposals and objectives. For this reason, perhaps the greatest “strategic challenge” of the Latin American left is to understand that every transcendental work will have errors and contradictions.


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