Latin America has continued its shift towards right-wing, anti-socialist leaders in the year 2018, electing new administrations in Colombia, Brazil, and Chile to change the political climate of a continent dominated by left-wing governments in the 21st century so far.
For most of the 2000s, Latin America’s largest nations were dominated by various hard-left leaders who wreaked economic and political havoc on the continent. The administrations of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, José Mujica in Uruguay, and others all initially proved popular with their ambitious spending schemes designed to eradicate poverty.
Yet in many of those countries – particularly Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela – the consequences of socialism have come to fruition, paving the way for more right-leaning governments eager for close ties with the United States. In 2015, the former businessman and Mayor of Buenos Aires Mauricio Macri became President of Argentina, defeating Kirchner’s hand-picked successor. In Brazil, the 2016 impeachment of Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff resulted in her temporary replacement by Michel Temer, her centrist vice president.
2018 will go down as possibly the most significant year in the shift of the continent rightwards.
The major upset of 2018 came with the election of right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, upending over a decade of socialist rule in a country where endless corruption scandals left the reputation of the political class in tatters. In May, the nation’s Supreme Court rejected former socialist President Lula’s final appeal, forcing him to start his 12-year prison sentence for his involvement in the Obredecht scandal. The Brazilian court system found Lula, who rose to prominence as the chief architect of the modern Brazilian left, guilty of using over $1 million in bribes to purchase a luxury beachfront property. During his tenure, dozens of politicians of nearly all political parties enriched themselves in a government kickback scheme known as “Operation Car Wash.”
The scandals paved the way for Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old Congressman and former army captain, to win the presidency after he promised to lead a major corruption crackdown, tackle soaring levels of crime, and liberalize the economy. Bolsonaro campaigned with two major advantages to his favor: proposing American-style conservatism rather than socialism or left-centrism – an option unheard of in modern Brazil – and, as a member of the tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL), having no record of corruption or ties to Operation Car Wash.
Obrigado pela confiança! Vamos juntos mudar o Brasil! pic.twitter.com/eeAdr0dc13
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) October 28, 2018
An outspoken admirer of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has pledged to follow Washington’s lead on a number of foreign policy issues, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, taking a tougher line against China, and stepping up international efforts to oust the Maduro regime in Venezuela. He also identifies as a hardline social conservative and fervent Christian (he is Catholic, his wife is Evangelical) and has pledged to cut funding for sexual education in schools and block any move to liberalize the country’s abortion laws.
In March, conservative politician Sebastian Piñera took power for the second time in Chile, replacing Michelle Bachelet at the helm of what remains the continent’s wealthiest and most prosperous nation. Although not considered a hardliner, he has received criticism for appointing members of his cabinet with ties to the Pinochet dictatorship. He has sought to lead a pro-business administration and has been one of the leading voices against the Maduro regime, describing the situation as a “tragedy in every sense of the word.”
Los necesito a todos ustedes, porque en esta misión no sobra nadie y son todos bienvenidos. Hagamos de Chile una Patria grande y noble, un país de unidad, de diálogo y de acuerdos. #ChileLoHacemosTodos pic.twitter.com/Rkv1wHBNuR
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) March 11, 2018
In Colombia’s presidential elections in May, conservative Ivan Duque defeated the far-left candidate Gustavo Petro, whose campaign was overshadowed by the economic and humanitarian crisis currently taking place in neighboring Venezuela. Since 2015, Colombia has welcomed over one million Venezuelan refugees, and as such Petro’s stated admiration for late revolutionary Hugo Chávez proved a devastating campaign message.
Duque replaced President Juan Manuel Santos, who despite formerly serving in a right-of-center government, staked his presidency on an amnesty deal with the Marxist terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and pushed it through despite it being rejected in a nationwide referendum.
Cuando nos unimos como pueblo nada nos detiene. Cuando todos aportamos somos capaces de hacer realidad proezas propias que ni siquiera el realismo mágico es capaz de imaginar. #UnidosPorElFuturo pic.twitter.com/ejuz0F9Unr
— Iván Duque (@IvanDuque) August 7, 2018
Duque was the hand-picked successor of former President Alvaro Uribe, who led Colombia from 2002 to 2010 and who maintains widespread support for his successful campaigns to liberate the country from guerilla warfare.
Since taking office in August, the 42-year-old Duque has sought to renegotiate aspects of the deal signed under Santos, with so far little success. In other domestic policy, he has prioritized the attraction of inward investment in the Colombian economy by cutting corporate tax rates and improving overall security in a nation still plagued by violence.
Despite the Maduro regime’s continued grip on power, there is increasing evidence that a democratic Venezuela would be led by a government vehemently opposed to the socialist policy that has led to the country’s demise. The regime has stolen every recent election in the country. In this year’s presidential election, the government banned conservatives from running, leading to a mass boycott designed to undermine Maduro’s legitimacy.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled to other countries to escape the humanitarian crisis currently afflicting this once prosperous nation. As a result, the argument of “just look at Venezuela” has become a devastatingly effective campaign cry for conservative politicians around the world, as noted with neighboring nations above.
Mexico, the exception to the rule
The major exception to the rule of Latin America’s shift rightwards was in Mexico, where left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) defied expectations to the left. Many in America blamed his victory on anti-Trump sentiment, while remaining regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia hailed it as an embrace of the ideals of revolutionary socialism.
— Gary Coronado (@gary_coronado) July 2, 2018
Yet as noted by Breitbart at the time, AMLO’s success was more to do with the chronic cartel violence that has dominated life in Mexico for so long, as well as the rampant corruption and failures of outgoing leader Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO, well-known to Mexican voters despite being an outsider candidate for stunts like declaring himself the “legitimate” president of Mexico after losing in 2006, benefitted greatly from the gross unpopularity of predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto and the desire of the Mexican voters to replace establishment politicians. AMLO has pitched a controversial plan to provide amnesty for some drug crimes, while also promising to lead a war against corruption.