In just over 10 years, the political map of Latin America has changed color from red to blue. When Jair Bolsonaro takes over as president of Brazil at New Year, the region takes a new step to the right. In this article, we look at the reasons why this has happened, and we ask what it means for just over 550 million Latin Americans.
- Who has the power in the Latin American countries today?
- How was the situation 10-12 years ago?
- Why have these changes occurred?
- Who wins and who loses on the right wind?
On January 1, 2019, Jair Bolsonaro (63) will be Brazil’s president. It is a shift in power that is being noticed, not only in Latin America according to BUSINESSCARRIERS, but in large parts of the world. The new president has said he supports Brazil’s former military dictatorship (1964 to 1985). He has also said he supports the use of torture under military rule. In addition, he has made strongly derogatory statements about women, people of color and gays.
Jair Bolsonaro is described as a right-wing populist, and he himself says that US President Donald Trump is a great role model. Bolsonaro’s main election promise is to fight corruption and crime, two of the biggest problems in Brazil and Latin America. He also says he will pursue an economic policy for free business, with lower taxes and limited government control. The business community has high expectations of Bolsonaro, and the majority of Brazilians believe he can create order, increased security and a more honest Brazil. But the vast majority of the country’s poor fear that their conditions will deteriorate further, in a country where there are already huge differences between rich and poor.
2: Many “blue” neighbors
Jair Bolsonaro is considered the most right-wing leader in Brazil since democracy was reintroduced in 1985. He takes over from Michel Temer from the center-right, thus reinforcing the right-wing wind that has characterized Latin America in recent years. And the new president will be surrounded by “blue” governments on all sides:
In Argentina, center-right politician Maurizio Macri has been president for the past three years, and in Chile, Sebastian Piñera of the right-wing National Renewal Party won the election a year ago. This means that the three largest economies in South America are governed by right-wing governments. This has not happened since the time of the military dictatorships in the 1970s and 80s.
In addition, conservative Ivan Duque is president of Colombia, while right-wing Martin Vizcarra is president of Peru. An interesting feature is that none of these leaders are women – a marked change after both Brazil, Argentina and Chile had female presidents a few years ago.
The political map of Latin America has changed dramatically in the last decade or so.
3: When the left prevailed
The Left Wave, the so-called “pink wave”, started when Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1999. In 2002, Luiz Inazio “Lula” da Silva from the Labor Party (PT) won a solid victory in the presidential election in Brazil. And the following year, left-wing politician Nestor Kirchner became president of Argentina. In 2005, Evo Morales was elected leader of Bolivia – the first indigenous president in Latin America. And the following year, Chilean Michele Bachelet became the first female president-elect in the region. In the middle of the 2000s, the left had power over most of the region.
But the left-wing wave of Latin America was not a unified movement, and only a small part of it was radical and revolutionary. The one who got the most attention on the radical wing was the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. He introduced what he called a “21st Century Socialism” – a policy of redistribution that led to a sharp reduction in poverty in the first place. But it would soon turn out that this policy was by no means sustainable.
For the vast majority of left-wing governments, it was a question of a reform policy that was very reminiscent of the social market economies in Norway and other Western European countries. Nevertheless, the effects were great, first and foremost because the differences between rich and poor are so enormous in the Latin American countries. Most famous is Lula da Silva’s program to fight poverty in Brazil. During the eight years he was in power, more than 30 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty and into the lower middle class. And Brazil was not alone. In the period 2002 to 2012, the number of poor people in Latin America was reduced by 10 million a year – from over 40 to around 25 percent!