Latin America: Left Wave and Social Progress Part I

By | October 19, 2021

January 1, 2011 marked the end of one of the most amazing political phenomena in modern Latin American history: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ended his eight-year presidency in Brazil with a popularity of 87 percent. Lula, as he is only called in Brazil, as a country located in South America according to FRANCISCOGARDENING, was born a poor boy and never received a higher education, in a country where all presidents before him had a university education. He had lost the presidential election three times before finally succeeding in 2002, in a battle against the country’s traditional power elite and the press over which they had decisive control. For a long time they seemed to be right, those who said that no worker and socialist trade union leader could become president of this extremely class-divided country.

  • What has happened in Latin America in the last decade?
  • How is the development in Latin America over the last decade explained?
  • What similarities and differences do we find between the regimes in Latin America?
  • What challenges does the area face?

But in the end, Lula put all predictions to shame. He gave Brazil a continuous period of strong economic growth and millions of new jobs. Together with social reforms and a large-scale social assistance program called Bolsa Familia (family scholarship / package), he contributed greatly to lifting 37 million people out of poverty. Through this, poor families receive a certain amount of money each month in return for committing to health checks and sending their children to school.

Similar programs have been implemented in several other Latin American countries. What in Brazil is called the lower middle class, made up a quarter of the population when Lula took over and half today. The minimum wage has increased by 200 percent in 16 years, something Lula has been a strong contributor to both as a union leader and president.

2: With the Nordic countries as a model

His dream from the inauguration speech, that he would provide all Brazilians with three meals every day, has come a long way. And he managed this without taking from the rich and getting them too much against him, with compromise abilities and a coalition government that according to Norwegian conditions would include parties as far apart as SV and Frp. Lula’s role model has in many ways been the great social compromise that Norway and other Nordic countries managed to create in the 1930s, where labor and capital negotiated until a coexistence that became world famous as ” the Nordic welfare state “. It is no coincidence that the Norwegian historian and politician Berge Furre, who has spent a lot of time in Brazil, calls Lula “Brazil’s answer to Johan Nygaardsvold” (Norwegian Prime Minister 1935-1940 / 45).

Brazil, by far the largest country in Latin America with just over a third of both the total population and national product, is the prime example of the enormous changes that have taken place on the South American continent in the last ten years: a strong political left turn , political leaders who have emerged from popular movements rather than the power elite that has traditionally held the continent in its iron grip, strong economic growth and stability that has been socially inclusive : it has provided both jobs and social security schemes.

Thus, most countries in this region can point to a sharp reduction in poverty – both absolute and relative. 14 out of 19 countries in Latin America with 2/3 of the population have had heads of state from the left and with the support of broad popular movements, something completely unheard of earlier in the history of this continent.

Among the most colorful presidents, besides Lula , have been former coup colonel Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Native American leader Evo Morales in Bolivia (first time this most Native American-dominated country has a president from the Native American movement), pastor Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, former guerrilla leader José Mujica in Uruguay and daughter of a victim of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, Michelle Bachelet . All these presidents have been imprisoned for a shorter or longer period of time by their political opponents. It tells in itself how the political situation in Latin America has been turned upside down.

3: Why the left turn?

What are the main reasons for this sensational left-wing wave? The first lies in the great social costs of the neoliberal economic policy that dominated the 1990s – largely dictated by the Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank . While the national economy was balancing, poverty exploded.

Economic liberalization coincided with a political liberalization , ie a wave of democratization. As a result of the new political possibilities, a completely new popular movement emerged in protest against social crises. The traditional political parties lost credibility in most countries, and new political leaders emerged from the protest movements. One of these movements was the Native American, who represented indigenous peoples in Latin America. And finally, the United States had one of the most right-wing presidents in a very long time, George Bush junior, who in many ways confirmed the traditional enemy image the popular movements had of US imperialism in Latin America.

As a result of all this, country after country in Latin America became completely unruly. When Argentina almost went bankrupt in 2001, there was a shout through the streets of Buenos Aires: “Que se vayan todos”, “away with them all” – ie the politicians. This cry resounded across the continent and paved the way for the new leaders who dominated the first decade of the new century.

Latin America 2