Summing up the year; the left-wing wind stays alive in South America

The left is staying strong in South America. Mural of Che Guevara in Venezuela. Photo: Wilfredo, Wikimedia Commons

The left is staying strong in South America. Mural of Che Guevara in Venezuela. Photo: Wilfredo, Wikimedia Commons

Raffael Correa and Nícolas Maduro were elected presidents in Ecuador and Venezuela respectively during the first months of 2013. Later the same year, Michelle Bachelet followed suit in Chile. This wave of left-wing presidents continued during October 2014, with the presidential elections of Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay. These elections meant a continuation of left-wing policies in South America that have increased and consolidated on the continent during the 21st century.

The Brazilian elections were the first to take place during October. The President in office, Dilma Rousseff from the Partido dos Trabalhadores, had long been seen to remain in power. She succeeded, but due to economic recession, street demonstrations and corruption scandals the process did not turn out quite as easy as many had foreseen. A few weeks before the first round of the elections the main rival to Rousseff was former Environment Minister Marina Silva from the Partido Socialista Brasileiro. Silva assumed the candidacy post after an unexpected turn of events that included the sudden death of the party’s main candidate, Eduardo Campos, in an airplane accident. Making matters worse, a fairly big corruption scandal unravelled during the run up to the elections. One of the directors of the majority state-owned oil company Petrobras, was discovered to have misused up to 90 million dollars of the company’s finances. From the prison cell the former director started revealing others involved in the fraud, including various officials. Pouring salt into the wound, one of the names mentioned was that of the recently deceased Eduardo Campos.

Even if Silva was thought to give Rousseff a match she was outvoted in the turnout. Instead the unexpected neoliberal Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia rose and caused a real nail-biter in the second round that Rousseff eventually won by a narrow margin. Rousseff is now facing challenges including social inclusive policies and measures to try to pull the country out of recession.

Bolivian president Evo Morales at Dìa de Trabajadores, May 1 2014.  Photo: Eneas De Troya, Flickr CC

Bolivian president Evo Morales at Dìa de Trabajadores, May 1 2014. Photo: Eneas De Troya, Flickr CC

In Bolivia, Evo Morales celebrated an overwhelming victory with more than 60 % of the votes, leaving the closest competitor at only 24 %. The electoral victory brought Evo Morales to his third consecutive mandate as the president of Bolivia, making him the longest serving president by popular vote ever, counting in total 14 years. With a background as a coca leaf grower and belonging to the Aymaras, the second largest of the 36 ethnic groups in the country, Morales has always, since his rise to power in the beginning of the 21st century, been tremendously popular among the indigenous people. His popularity has recently spread to la Media Luna, the lowlands of Bolivia, which until the election was recognised as the opposition’s fortress. Morales has unquestionably accomplished notable achievements in his country. Poverty has decreased from 64 % in 2005 to 45 % in 2011, the per capita income has grown from USD 1000 to 2500 and Bolivia is estimated to have the highest GDP growth, above 5 %, in South America at the end of 2014.

But the criticism is not absent. Morales has a stable grip on power, and has of late been making an increasing amount of important decisions single-handedly, and thus Bolivia has been criticised for its democracy deficit. A disputed act was the declaration of his first mandate as invalid due to the amendment of the constitution in 2009, which thereby opened up for his second re-election, keeping him in power until 2020 even though the constitution only allows for two consecutive mandates. The question remains; will Morales try to abolish the constitutional limit of two presidential terms after 2020? He certainly has the support in the parliament if he decides to do so.

Dilma Rousseff, president in Brazil meets the president of  Uruguay, José Mujica. Both strong left wing profiles in South America. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

Dilma Rousseff, president in Brazil meets the president of Uruguay, José Mujica. Both strong left wing profiles in South America. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

In Uruguay the broad left-wing coalition Frente Amplio (FA) has dominated politics for the past decade. In 2004, Tabaré Vázquez broke the long tradition of right-wing governance that had lasted since the mid 80’s when the military junta fell apart. Vázquez mandate was followed by that of José “Pepe” Mujica, a true personality. Mujica, a former leader of the guerrilla group Tupamaros and bank robber, was imprisoned during the dictatorship. He spent 13 years in prison, of which the first two were spent completely in solitary confinement. After assuming the presidential post he denied to accept his salary and donated 90 % to charity, resulting in the nickname: “the poorest president in the world”. Mujica is still refusing any extravagance, choosing to live in a simple house outside Montevideo and driving an old beetle from 1987. The FA have gotten the Uruguayan economy back on track; decreasing poverty to 12 % and their progressive policies have resulted in legalising cannabis and the right to abortion. During the lead up to the presidential elections in October the FA was thought to win easily but the opposition crawled closer and the demands of the growing middle class almost ironically seemed to be the FA:s major problem in the elections. However, the candidate of the FA, Tabaré Vázquez, won convincingly in the first round and could easily guarantee his majority in the second round in November. Vázquez now faces difficulties including improving the lacking education system and controlling the rising insecurity, brought on by an increasing criminality.

So when summing up the year it is clear that the political left remains in power in South America, leaving only Colombia and Paraguay outside the left-wing spectrum. However, whether the leftish wind will blow as strongly next year still remains to be seen.

Fredrik Karlsson