MEXICO CITY/BOGOTA/SAO PAULO (Reuters)
Latin America’s new “pink tide” is gaining pace after Colombia elected its first leftist leader Gustavo Petro, with Brazil expected to follow suit in elections in October, an echo of a regional political shift in the early 2000s.
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, have ditched mainstream parties and been lured by promises of bigger government and social spending.
“A leftist government in Colombia represents hope,” Gloria Sanchez, a 50-year-old primary school teacher in the capital Bogotá and a Petro supporter, told Reuters.
“This is the first time that there’s a government that sees the people, the poor, as human beings.”
Colombia’s shift means it joins Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Peru in a growing leftist bloc. In Brazil, the regional economic giant, former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leads opinion polls against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
The redrawing of political fault lines, with conservative bastions like Chile and Colombia toppled, may have a big impact on everything from grains and metals to economic policy, as well as ties with key partners like the United States and China.
“There is really an important and clear movement happening in Latin America, even though different governments show different nuances,” said Brazilian Senator Humberto Costa and member of the leftist Workers’ Party.
Chile’s Gabriel Boric, a 36-year-old progressive, came into office in March. Pedro Castillo, a socialist former teacher, in Peru last year. Bolivia’s socialist party won the election in 2020 after a short-lived conservative interim government.
Bolivia’s ex-president Evo Morales, an icon of the original pink tide, wrote on Twitter that Petro’s win in Colombia marked a “rising social conscience and solidarity that raises the flag of the Latin American left.”
LULA VS BOLSONARO
All eyes are now on Brazil, where elections this year could tip the country leftwards, with voters growing dissatisfied with populist ultra-conservative President Bolsonaro.
“The fight against Bolsonaro has renewed Brazil’s left,” said leftist Brazilian Congressman Alexandre Padilha, adding it was attracting younger voters and bringing people together in opposition to the current political and economic status quo.
“I believe that economic and political figures around the world are increasingly noticing the need to review a series of neoliberal policies that have ended up deepening inequality.”
The new pink tide is however starkly different from the original version, which saw the emergence of firebrand leftists such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Morales in Bolivia.
Castillo in Peru has swung to the centre since coming into office in the middle of last year, creating tension with his socialist party. Boric has looked to moderate his economic agenda and criticised regional leftist authoritarian regimes.
And the tide could turn too, with centre-left Argentine President Alberto Fernandez under pressure ahead of 2023 elections, Castillo struggling to fight off repeated impeachment attempts and Boric’s popularity waning since taking office.
“If elections there were happening today, many of these ‘pink’ governments would disappear,” said Nicolas Saldias, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. “This is not a strong base of support.”
On the streets of Colombia, many voters simply wanted a better life for themselves and their children. The chance to study and work.
“I don’t understand much about the left and right, we are working people and those things don’t matter to us, we want to work and that our children they can be better than us,” said Pedro Pedraza, 60, a shopkeeper in Bogotá.
“We don’t want anything for free, we want conditions to be able to work and get ahead, get out of poverty.”