Late last month, Colombia elected progressive candidate Gustavo Petro to the presidency, joining countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Chile and Peru in forming a growing bloc of left and center-left governments throughout Central and South America.
Around the region, angry voters, pinched by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant inflation fanned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are mobilizing towards parties that promise a democratization of the economy and increased social spending.
Luis Arce, member of the Bolivian political party Movement for Socialism, won the Presidency of the country in an October 2020 snap election with 55 percent of the popular vote. Other recent presidential wins in this arena include former student organizer Gabriel Boric in Chile, and schoolteacher Pedro Castillo in Peru.
“There is really an important and clear movement happening in Latin America, even though different governments show different nuances,” said Humberto Costa, Brazilian Senator and member of the leftist Workers’ Party.
The redrawing of political fault lines, with traditionally conservative governments like those of Chile and Colombia toppled, lends the potential of coordination between the new governments on wide swaths of economic policy. Such coordination could see a further shift in relations with traditional regional partners like the United States, who have historically held economic primacy over the hemisphere.
One economic area that may provide a basis for coordination between Central and South American nations is the energy sector. South American workers are feeling the impacts of a growing global energy crisis deeply, as they rely on a limited number of foreign investments and trading partners to refine the natural resources that workers pull from the ground.
Mexico, for example, sends a large portion of its unrefined petroleum north to the United States for refinement, and must buy back the end product at a loss. Recently, the president of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pushed to eliminate the country’s importation of refined gasoline from the US in favor of funding internal infrastructure projects, which includes a planned seven refineries by the end of 2023.
Bolivia, with its lithium-rich salt flats, does not currently have the capacity to mass-manufacture the resource into high-demand batteries, consequently sending shipments elsewhere for processing into a final product. Since taking office, Arce has made overtures similar to Obrador’s, seeking to re-vitalize the country’s state-owned lithium operations and invest in the infrastructure needed for processing the raw material into a finished product.
Whether the new class of South American leaders will have the necessary legislative mandates to enact their domestic vision is a topic that remains open to interpretation, but will almost certainly have bearing on their ability to coordinate actions amongst their partner nations. Arce’s party in Bolivia has a decisive majority in both the lower and upper houses, while Petro must negotiate from a political position that has no clear majority in the legislative branch. In Peru, Castillo has moderated his position since taking office, which has caused tensions with his own political party.
In the near future, observers of the renewed “pink tide” in South America will be looking to Brazil, where the presidential election slated for October could tip the country away from its current conservative leadership under executive Jair Bolsonaro, with opinion polls showing former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a solid lead.
Reporting Courtesy of Sean Hagerup
Image Courtesy of Edgar Zuniga Jr. on Flickr