The vote of the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, which has been ratified by the Senate, is irrefutable proof that the political pendulum has swung in the other direction in Latin America. Brazil is perhaps the country which is most representative of the reactionary left cycle because of the Workers Party, which secured victory in 2002 and, above all, because of one of the figures that embodied it: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a mechanic who became president, and who today is being investigated for corruption. Dilma Rousseff, from the same party, succeeded him.
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The cracks in the model, which has been given various names like 21st century socialism, Chavism, etc., were already visible, because of economic inefficiency and corruption, especially in Argentina and Venezuela. The Kirchners, who governed Argentina for 12 years, gave their surname to one of the lines of investigation on corruption: The Route of the K-Money. Without doubt, this influenced the political alternation in favor of Mauricio Macri in 2015. Two charges of illicit enrichment have now been brought against Cristina de Kirchner.
In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro inherited and aggravated the crisis created by Hugo Chávez over 15 years, until his death in 2013. Last February, his friend Evo Morales lost the referendum and he will not be able to present himself as a candidate again, as was his wish. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa withdrew from standing for presidential re-election, as the polls did not favor him, and he faces a grave economic crisis caused by a model designed for the economic boom, with evident waste, which ended with the drop in oil prices. This crisis has been aggravated, irreparably, by the earthquake on 16 April, in which more than 600 people have died. Correa is after imposing a new tax package, as the natural disaster found the state coffers empty in a government which, as in Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Caracas and La Paz, is said to be leftist.
Many policies were similar in these governments, so much so that reference was made to an ideological franchise. In practice, these governments created and financed political organizations and organizations for cooperation; they even shared a regional television channel, Telesur. Besides a structural ideological shift in the South American opinion, it can be said that there were circumstantial, economic and political factors that favored the emergence of self-proclaimed socialist governments: economic recession, the crisis of representation, the decline of the traditional elites in the nineties, the inability of traditional parties to reinvent themselves…This vacuum opened the doors to outsiders, like Chávez and Correa, and for projects that the electors had rejected: those lead by Lula da Silva in Brazil and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
This cycle is closing. The commodities crisis demonstrated the limits of the ideology and revealed the inefficient administration of a left that is prone to distributing wealth but incapable of creating it. It is clear that the oil boom lead to, in all of these countries, a positive shift in social indexes. This advantage was exploited politically and allowed the creation of political clientelism with state bribes in the form of bonuses and subsidies. These policies, hailed by international organizations, are novel but, at the same time, unsustainable. This can now be seen in the statistics, mainly from Venezuela and Brazil.
The evaluation of this cycle will have to be done on a case by case basis as, regardless of the ideological labels, there are nuances and differences between these countries. In Bolivia, for example, the economy is managed in a more orthodox way. From now on, however, it is possible to discern some characteristics that are shared by these governments and which will, undoubtedly, influence the political culture of this region. Here are four, to begin with:
1. Polarization: The governments divided countries into those that supported them and those that did not. The money from commodities allowed them to play God and to talk about a before and an after. They did not only rebuild the country, in cases like that of Venezuela and Ecuador, they spoke openly about a historic turning point: the second independence after that achieved from Spain in the nineteenth century. Always polarizing between good and bad, patriots and traitors, is part of their strategy. The consequences are disastrous as politics becomes a religion where common sense, logic and civilized debate about political ideas and projects has no place.
2. The State is everything: The money from commodities allowed these governments to become, with nuances, the be-all and end-all of everything. Politically, they concentrated all the powers (especially in Venezuela and Ecuador) and even set themselves up as absolute representatives of society. Economically, they supplanted the private sector and turned the State into the engine of the economy. Dismantling this system, which is protected by the Constitution and a myriad of laws, decrees and regulations, will be one of the most arduous and difficult tasks for future governments. Octavio Paz’s philanthropic ogre is now one more peculiarity of Latin American culture.
3. Dependent societies: These governments had the wisdom to position, in an indispensable way, social policies on the agendas of the governments and the societies. Unfortunately, they used these agendas for propaganda purposes. Their social policies, far from being tied to a productive process, became the core of their polarization strategy. In the end, they are not sustainable nor have they changed the political culture of the society. On the contrary, now there are many more citizens who expect everything from the state. On this point, these leftist governments also failed: they returned to the system of spending and imposing taxes on those who have money. But, they didn’t reconcile society with the production and the necessity to produce wealth.
4. The end of the public sphere: One of the fundamental characteristics of the left was public debate. Its anti-establishment force was evident in trade unions, associations, universities, indigenous and social movements, minorities, Christians inspired by liberation theology…This left, once in power, proved that its logic was unequivocal and totalitarian. Debate was blocked, social protest was criminalized, mechanisms against the media and freedom of expression were created, and armies of trolls were installed to carry out witch-hunts on social networks. Ultimately, it converted the public sphere into the closest thing to a sewer. These governments, that call themselves progressive, have caused tremendous structural damage and they have done their utmost to win over from power a society that they see as obedient, not deliberative.