As Pink Tide recedes, U.S. should support Latin American democracy


 With Latin American voters turning away from their populist leaders, many speculate that the “pink tide” that has pushed the region to the left over the last 15 years is now turning, analyst Jorge Castaneda recently observed.

Recent elections in Argentina and Venezuela have reinvigorated democracy activists in the hemisphere. Over the last decade or so illiberal populism has been ascendant in parts of Central and South America, former diplomats Lino Gutierrez and Robert Callahan write for The Miami Herald.

“But the victories by Mauricio Macri in Argentina for president and the political opposition in Venezuela’s legislative elections have reshuffled the deck and dealt a new hand to democracy advocates in Latin America, giving them the hope and encouragement that have been absent in recent years,” they observe.

Even if the past two elections in Argentina and Venezuela were the start of a trend that rejects left wing politics, the Pink Tide is still likely to have long-term effects, argues Robie Mitchell, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs:

  • First, the Pink Tide has reinforced certain cultural attitudes that will not recede simply because some of its main proponents have left public office. A hemisphere-wide shift has occurred in public opinion towards the United States. ….
  • Secondly, the global economic environment has also changed dramatically since the Great Recession making a return to the previous era of neo-liberalism and reliance on Washington unlikely…..
  • Thirdly, the Pink Tide has allowed left-leaning ideologues to gain influence within bureaucracies, media companies, and judiciaries throughout Latin America. So, it will require consistent electoral defeats before leftist political influence, which allowed the Pink Tide’s policies to occur, would be completely eradicated.

The deepening unpopularity of the continent’s three most important leftist parties — in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela —has led to much heady talk about the “ebbing of the pink tide” — the nationalistic, spendthrift and often immensely corrupt populists that dominated much of the region for most of this century. Yet there is a bigger change taking place in Latin America today. It has to do with the rise in the rule of law, The FT adds:

This new emphasis on the rule of law is a major shift for a continent where elites have long enjoyed impunity. It reflects an exploding desire among Latin American citizens for modern states that recognise the limits of power and respect constitutional checks and balances too. (It is no accident that economic mismanagement is greatest in countries where constitutionalism and rule of law are weakest, like Venezuela.) Popular revulsion with corruption, amplified by social media, is so widespread that some even talk about a “Latin American spring”.

 If the true democrats in the region are to build on the fragile opportunity that these recent elections have given them, two things must happen, Gutierrez and Callahan suggest:

▪ First, the opposition must unite, as they did in Argentina and Venezuela, and once in office they must govern effectively. For too long and in too many countries democrats have engaged in petty squabbles to the detriment of their parties and nations. And, when they have come to power, too many of them proved to be more interested in enriching themselves than in improving the lives of their people.

▪ Second, the United States must be more assertive in promoting and defending democracy. If a government restricts the basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and press, if it rigs elections and tampers illegally with the constitution, if it adopts policies that damage American interests, then we must condemn these actions and show our displeasure through measures that call to account those responsible.

“But we do have aid programs and preferential trade agreements in place and we can suspend or alter many of them. We also could work to create a hemispheric free-trade zone for those countries that subscribe to and practice good governance,” they add. “And we could speak out, unabashedly, from the White House and State Department, about our belief in basic liberties, human rights, and democracy.” RTWT

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