Short honeymoon for the Latin American left

Am I happy that Latin America elected leftists? Of course not, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Down in Chile, leftist President Gabriel Boric is struggling in the polls.  He is learning that changing a constitution is complicated, especially if your message is divisive and economically risky.   

Over in Colombia, newly sworn in leftist President Gustavo Petro will soon to face reality as well, such as slow economic growth rates, high levels of corruption, entrenched inequality, inadequate health and education services, and poor infrastructure. Add to this a faltering peace process with former insurgents and a history of bad relations with Venezuela and it will get ugly fast .

Yes. honeymoons are turning out to be short for the Latin American left:     

The experience of Petro’s ideological soulmates in Chile, Peru, and Argentina offer useful lessons. 

The first is to avoid interpreting their recent electoral success as a triumph of socialism or an invitation to repeat the failed state-centric economic policies of the early 2000s. Instead of voting for fresh ideas, Latin Americans have been voting against incumbent governments.

Most of the region’s sitting presidents were conservatives, so a change of guard inevitably means a shift left, a trend which began with Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory in Mexico in 2018. 

Reasons for discontent abound: living standards are falling, the state is failing to deliver, and the best opportunities are too often reserved for a privileged few. The pandemic exacerbated social tensions.

As a result, presidential honeymoons are short and expectations almost impossibly high. The perils for new leaders are obvious: the presidents of Chile and Peru have seen their approval ratings collapse in a matter of months because they disappointed impatient voters. 

In Argentina, the incumbents facing a drubbing at the polls next year are on the left. 

Voters care about results, not ideology.

Yes, governing is tough specially when the elected leaders misread public sentiments.    It turns out that Latin American voters were angry at incumbents, particularly after the pandemic.  The left exploited the anger and promised a lot — a lot that they can’t deliver.  And now the honeymoons are over and the voters are angry with the left for failing to deliver, such as in Peru, Chile, and Argentina.

How long will President Petro’s honeymoon last?  Not long, especially if he listens to the “three amigos” in Lima, Santiago, and Buenos Aires.

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