In 2019, 39-year-old right-winger Nayib Bukele became president in El Salvador, and in 2021, 36-year-old leftist Gabriel Boric was elected president in Chile. The former aroused anger and respect with his implacable fight against banditry, the latter discredited himself with political worthlessness.
In 2023, the supposedly right-wing «young» 35-year-old Daniel Noboa came to power in Ecuador, and in Guatemala the supposedly «left-wing» almost 60-year-old Bernardo Arevalo came to power. Both have yet to prove themselves in any way. Making campaign promises doesn’t mean you can fulfill them. These are the rules of real life.
The political pendulum moves in the opposite direction faster than we think. It rarely stops in the middle. And not by choice. In the late nineties of the last century, Latin America swung to the left again in anticipation of a bright future. Faced with unfulfilled expectations, Latin Americans were willing to look for other options that could change their lives. So they swung to the right from the unfulfilled promises of the left. But the right didn’t make them any happier either. Then the pendulum swung left again.
The latter period has been called the «pink tide», as Larry Rother labeled it in the New York Times in 2005. «Pink» to distinguish it from the «red tide» of communists and other left-wing revolutionaries. And perhaps to hint at the coming right-wing «brown tide».
At its core, it was a reaction to unpopular neoliberal policies pursued by right-wing U.S.-supported opportunists.
It is clear that Latin America is changing, but neither Washington nor Latin America itself seems to notice the extent of this change. In 2019, US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the return of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, under which the US declared Latin America its own “backyard” and warned all foreign powers to stay out of Europe and Russia. A rare folly that has turned Latin America away from Washington today. And turned it not toward the United States, not toward Russia, but toward China.
Old Biden couldn’t think of a better way. U.S. policy toward the region continues to be, to put it mildly, misguided. The Summit of the Americas, held in Los Angeles in June 2022, is a case in point! The White House deliberately excluded the participation of those whom Bolton called the «trio of tyranny» — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. As a result, Latin American leaders, led by the president of Mexico, refused to participate in this show of «solidarity with the U.S.» and others took the opportunity to denounce U.S. policy in the region.
In November 2022, key figures of the Latin American right once again gathered at an upscale hotel in Mexico City at America’s initiative. Activists welcomed more than 300 “convinced warriors” of the Cold War, including officials from Taiwan, South Korea, South Vietnam, Cuban gusanos, as well as former Nazi collaborators from Germany, Croatia and Ukraine, militants from the Middle East and Africa… Beyond the hotel, their angry sermons were unheard.
Latin America’s shift to the left seems inevitable. Poverty and inequality — the continent’s traditional problems — and the failure of neoliberal policies have made the continent’s situation even worse.
A 2021 study by Latinobarómetro, a leading regional pollster, found that most voters in the region hold left-wing views when it comes to inequality, but hold right-wing views when it comes to public safety. In other words, they want problem solvers who can address their real needs, from fighting rampant bribery to creating jobs to fighting violent crime. Is that all…?
How do we understand who Latinos reject and who Latinos accept? Lula’s victory was the 15th consecutive victory for the leftist opposition in Latin American presidential elections. Noboa’s victory was the victory of the right-wing opposition in Ecuador’s elections. Who wins?
At one end of the spectrum is Boric, a 36-year-old former student activist who cares about LGBT rights and who has introduced a bill to legalize abortion, but who has also admitted that he is «outraged» by the failure of other leftists to condemn socialist dictatorships in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. At the other end is 69-year-old Lopez Obrador, who blames feminists and non-traditionalists who demand abortion rights and an end to gender violence, and who has rejected the U.S. boycott of the same Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The president of El Salvador, by putting a certain segment of the population behind bars, became popular in Latin America. Gabriel Boric in Chile, having promised to eliminate political and economic inequality, did nothing in this regard. And his rating has fallen «below the plinth». Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who eliminated any opposition to his government by deporting political opponents and stripping them of their citizenship, effectively «killed» support for the Sandinista revolution. Peru’s extremely unpopular President Dina Boluarte has also been kept in power despite repeated protests demanding her resignation.
However, the conservative wave that followed the «pink wave» has not yet fully arrived. Latin America’s right and left are brought to the same political spectrum. In recent elections in Argentina and Guatemala, nearly a third of the electorate cited crime, drugs and personal security as the main reasons they voted for one candidate or another.
Today, the average voter wants to hear only one thing from politicians: what they can do to make the streets safer. If the «pink tide» does recede, it will be for a number of reasons: voter fatigue with the current government, failure to develop new leadership, a serious economic downturn, mounting foreign debt and the rise of the far right.
It may be funny, but the right-wing will change nothing about it. Because the Right continues to use tactics designed to destabilize. And US militarism, with its talk of threats from China and Russia, threatens a new era of Cold War-style interventionism. And it will provoke a new wave that will raise silt from the river bottom.
For too long, Washington has backed the wrong players in the region — authoritarian military officers and wealthy businessmen, many of whom were educated in the United States. For too long, U.S. governments have failed to realize that civil society demands change in Latin America.
The truth is that instead of turning left or right, Latin Americans remain pragmatically centrist. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) in Latin America are less committed to democracy and capitalism. They tend to place greater importance on addressing climate and social inequality.
As Millennials make their way to political office, it seems that there are more Borices than Bukeles. But take note: the right-wing Bukele is wildly popular, with an approval rating of over 75%, while the left-wing Boric and many like him are stuck at 27%.
Eduardo Verastegui, a Mexican actor, producer and former policy adviser to Donald Trump on Latin American community policy, donated a Mexican soccer jersey to Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of the president who lost the election to Luiz Lula. The jersey number — 27 — hints Bolsonaro Jr. could become president in Brazil’s 2027 election. Is the brown tide replacing the pink one?