The end of the dream for the Latin American Left

During the first wave of the 21st century, the left wing gained territory in 12 of the 18 democratic countries of Latin America. Today, only six of them remain with a leftist government.

During the first wave of the 21st century, the left wing gained territory in 12 of the 18 democratic countries of Latin America. Today, only six of them remain with a leftist government.

Graph from Ramen IR ( showing Latin America's Ideological shifts between 2012 and 2016.

After its golden age (from 1999 to 2012), the left had an abrupt decay. At the beginning of the century, the pink tide reached two thirds of Latin American democratic countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Today, only six of those countries remain with a left-leaning government: Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela. Each of them have presented corruption scandals, riots, economic crisis, bankruptcy and other critical problems.

A Latin America hit by neoliberalism brought new left leaders to power. The first in the pink wave was Hugo Chávez, who in 1999 sat down on Venezuela’s presidential chair. Chávez soon became a symbol of change, with a populist discourse focused on reducing the gap between social classes and the implementation of public welfare policies. However, the glimpse of hope in the Latin American left quickly faded as the catastrophic results of the 21st Century Socialism became evident, such as hyperinflation and corruption, problems that worsened with his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Despite the fact that Venezuela is one of the countries that remains a left-sided politics, there is a clear discontentment among its citizens, who protest for a change and emigrate looking for a better future. This is the case for many other governments with socialist tendencies.

A journalist from The New York Times, Jorge Castañeda (2016) exposes the main reasons for the decay of the left wing in Latin America.

  • Mismanagement of funds: In the first place, Castañeda states that "the problem is that no one saved up for the inevitable rainy day". The journalist explains that there was a time of wealth in resources and raw materials that allowed to invest in social programs, but when prices began to plummet, there was no contingency mesh to keep the projects going. "Country after country saw growth rates fall, social spending shrink and citizens get angry", Castañeda says.
  • Corruption: For Castañeda, many leaders of the Latin American left "had become as deeply enmeshed in Latin America's tradition of corrupt practices as their conservative predecessors, civilian or military, elected or imposed". We can recall the Petrobras scandal in Brazil, where the state-owned oil company got involved in money laundering, which caused a 2,000 million dollar loss, under the hands of leftist president Dilma Rousseff, which led to her destitution in 2016.
  • Abuse of power: Another fatal error of Latin American leftist politicians is the manipulation of government strategies and censorship. "Some muzzled the press, stacked the judiciary, harassed opposition leaders and tampered with electoral systems. Others failed to deal with growing crime and violence", explains Castañeda.

The perception of an authoritarian-leaning left was common among Latin American social leaders, which was reflected in antidemocratic policies, censorship of mass media, hostility towards the business sector and appeal to a populism, which worked at first, but was not enough to keep their elector’s support. In both right and left governments there has been corruption, an endemic problem in Latin America. Besides these already critical conflicts, we can add poorly planned public spending that does not attend the structural issues that causes the gap between social classes.

On the other hand, as long as this inequality remains, the leftists dream will not perish entirely. History has proven that as long as there are dissatisfied people, there will always be a counterpart to the current government, regardless of the party. It is a vicious cycle. Just as there is no light without darkness, there is no right without left and vice versa.


Latin American Post | María de los Ángeles Rubio

We use cookies to improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you are giving consent to cookies being used. More details…