What’s left of the Latin left?
As Chávez’s death focuses attention on the economic failings of radicals, pragmatists are proving more successful
Three weeks before Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday, Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s best-known pro-democracy blogger, landed in Brazil on a scheduled flight. Ms Sánchez had waited five years for permission to travel abroad and Brazil was an obvious first place to visit.
Latin America’s biggest economy shares a common heritage with Cuba, with their histories of slavery and sugar. Brazil is also governed by the leftwing Workers party, elected three times in a vibrant democracy – so unlike the Castro dictatorship at home.
Yet soon after the gangly 37-year- old writer arrived, she had an unwelcome reminder of the world she had left momentarily behind. At a São Paulo bookshop, about 200 young socialist activists burst into the room proclaiming her a CIA spy. One protester chanted: “Mercenary”. It was the same kind of invective that Chávez, Cuba’s closest ally, had levelled against Caracas’s middle class, which he condemned as los escuálidos or the “squalid ones”.
Ms Sánchez brushed it off. Yet many Brazilians were mortified. Ms Sánchez tweeted: “You know the phrase I’ve most heard in São Paulo? Yoani, please excuse these extremists. They don’t represent us.”
In some ways, though, they do. Ms Sánchez’s experience exposes a feature of Latin American politics that has been highlighted again this week by Chávez’s death. Both events show there are two strands of leftism in Latin America, the Brazilian kind and the Cuban/Venezuelan kind.
Both have very different origins – and prospects. Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican intellectual, identified their characteristics in a 2006 essay in Foreign Affairs. The first strand, a pragmatic left, today includes the governments in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay. They are “modern, open-minded, reformist and internationalist”.
The second strand, which includes Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and perhaps Argentina, “is born of the great tradition of Latin American populism, is nationalistic, strident and closed-minded”. While democratically elected, their autocratic style and length of tenure can also make their successions traumatic.
Chávez wanted to reign until 2030. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia since 2006, is running for a third term. Rafael Correa, into his second term, is Ecuador’s longest-serving president in more than 30 years.
Cristina Fernández, Argentine president, is in her second term, after one by her husband, and eyeing a third. The Castro brothers have ruled since 1959.
Chávez’s death raises questions about the future of this populist strand. That it is partly because his petrodollar diplomacy financed most of them, and partly because his tweak-the-nose attitude to enemies poisoned the region’s tone frequently during the past 14 years.
Continue reading HERE.