IS THE 'PINK TIDE' MELTING AWAY?


26/11/2016





For more than a decade Latin America has been under the influence of leftwing governments, but since last year, the situation has been changing.
The Pink Tide or the Turn to the Left are terms used to refer to the anti-American and left leaning governments in Latin America in the 21st century. Since 1998, the left has been influential in Latin American politics. The reason why it was signified by pink and not red was because these governments implemented post-neoliberal policies, different from those of communists and socialists under the Cold War. The Pink TideWith the end of the Cold War the USA begun imposing neoliberal policies on developing countries under the Washington Consensus. These policies stipulated an open market economy and privatisation. Some of these countries were under a difficult transition from dictatorships to democracies during the 80s and the 90s. As a result of the problems of the liberal economy in the 90s and the low standards of living, social injustice and deprivation on the continent, leftwing parties began to increase their influence in Latin America. Many of them went by the terms ‘labour’ or ‘socialist. However, they were distant to the traditional communist or leftwing understanding of the Cold War and had democratic tendencies. According to a 2005 BBC report, three quarters of the population of Latin America lived in a country governed by one of these parties between 1999-2005. In 1998, the Pink Tide won 23 elections in nine different countries. The rise to power of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 is taken as the beginning of the Pink Tide era. Soon afterwards, a leftwing government took power in Chile. A domino effect was underway in Latin America. Brazil became a part of the Pink Tide in 2002, Argentina in 2003, Uruguay and Bolivia in 2005, Equator in 2006, Paraguay in 2008 and Peru in 2011.While some criticised the Pink Tide for being populist and extreme left, it was actually closer to the middle ground on the political spectrum. These parties advocated democracy, equality, fairer distribution of income and welfare state policies while at the same time undertaking some neoliberal transformations. Foreign investments were supported and foreign trade grew. Each Latin American country developed its own domestic policies according to its historical experiences and socio-political factors. For example, while Venezuela introduced price controls and nationalisation, Chile had adopted the free market. While the governments of the Pink Tide resembled one another in terms of political aims and strategies, in practice they bore significant differences. With the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, Nicolas Maduro took over Venezuela. The economy which had worsened under Chavez hit the bottom under Maduro and the country entered a crisis. Governments in Latin America had come to be separated into Chavez-ists and Lula-ists. Proponents of Chavez went for more radical leftwing practices, while those of Lula tried to develop social programmes against poverty and prioritised foreign investment. To use the description of the former president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula de Silva in Brazil and Evo Morales in Bolivia were like the “three musketeers of the continent.” However, it was in precisely in these three countries where the problems began. Fall of Governments 2015 was a turning point for the Pink Tide. The electoral losses in Argentina and Venezuela were the beginning. Economic downturn and corruption may be seen as the reason for the loss of votes. While economic growth in Argentina was lower than 1 per cent in 2015 and 2016, inflation climbed to 16.8 per cent. Under the authoritarian regime in Venezuela, conditions were much worse. The Venezuelan economy displayed its worst performance in 200 years with the collapse of the oil price, contracting by 10 per cent with inflation rising to 159.1 per cent. While much of Latin America was in crisis, the anti-Atlantic Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil had been affected the most. Their governments had been in power for more than 10 years and all bureaucratic positions had been taken over by party members where they had taken root. The parties had become corrupted and lost their initial passion and intent. Later corruption scandals erupted first in Brazil and then in Venezuela. In Argentina, the Kirchner family was being accused of being responsible for the unexplained death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The nephew of Venezuelan president Maduro had been arrested in Haiti for smuggling 800 kilograms of cocaine. The Petrobras scandal in brazil, which came to the fore with the Lava Jato operation that began in 2014 reached a climax in 2016 with the impeachment process of President Rouseff. The standoff continued until the resignation of the coalition and the establishment of a transitional government.Another factor which caused the governments of the Pink Tide to lose power was the difficulty of replacing initial charismatic leaders. In Argentina Cristina Kirchner never came to be as well likes as her spouse Nestor Kirchner. In Venezuela Maduro never displayed Chavez’s skill in rhetoric. In Brazil, although Dilma Rouseff enjoyed the support of her predecessor from the same party, Lula da Silva, she enjoyed lower popularity among the public. In Uruguay the new president Tabare Vazquez remained under the shadow of the former president Jose Mujica. Thus began the fall of the left in Latin America. 2014 saw the initial phase of the corruption scandal in Brazil, while protests erupted in Venezuela. With the demonstrations picking up pace, Maduro declared a state of emergency. In 2015, Maduro’s party PSUV lost the parliamentary elections and the Liberal Party had won two thirds of the seats. In Argentina too, the liberals made a comeback under Mauricio Macri following 12 years of uninterrupted government by the Kirchner family, and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was sued for embezzling the state. In Equator protests erupted after the limitations on the presidential term were lifted. The new legislation was not the only problem in the country. Economic difficulties and popular displeasure at President Rafael Correa’s administration had also affected the situation. In Bolivia, Evo Morales held a referendum to lift the limitations on the presidential term so that he could remain in office. Having been president since 2006, Morales wanted a third term. His attitude led to demonstration rallies around the country. In the February referendum the people rejected the proposed change. Under the circumstances Evo Morales will leave the president’s office in August 2016. In 2014, protests were held in Nicaragua against President Ortega and the construction of the Nicaragua Canal. The wave of unrest that began in 2014 continued to spread. Corruption scandals were added to economic difficulties and leftwing governments began to lose electoral support. It is inevitable that the left will lose power throughout Latin America with government changes in Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia, origins of the Pink Tide and the crisis in Bolivia. However, it should be added that while in some countries Pink Tide parties did stray from their ideals and became authoritarian, the ongoing change in Latin America has more to do with the corruption of leftwing parties and economic difficulties than the success of the right.Is the Pink Tide melting away?2015 was a turning point for Pink Tide governments. While rising protests and corruption cases made the work of governments more difficult, economic difficulties have triggered the worst. As leftwing governments lost support, the right began to gain power. It was no coincide that corruption cases emerged at the same time as economic crises. Economic conditions were the foremost factor in the fall of leftwing governments. Electoral victories of the right have been made possible by the economic failings of the left rather than the previous successes of rightwing governments. While Pink Tide governments lost influence in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, President Jose Mujica of Uruguay who resigned in 2015 enjoyed 70 per cent electoral support.As is the case around the world, voters are more influenced by periodic circumstances than ideology in Latin America. Hey value the services offered by political parties, rather than whether they are rightwing or leftwing. This weakens leftwing parties. The right naturally favours the free market and foreign investment. This leads to short term gains in countries which have undergone the neo-liberal transformation and increases living standards while not solving any longer term issues. A good example is the situation Greece and Spain find themselves in today. The next round of elections in Latin America will show for certain whether the Pink Tide is melting away or not. However, as the vote will depend on the circumstances of the day, the fate of the well rooted left in Latin America can be more clearly seen after a few electoral cycles. Turning to the right for economic reasons, the voters may afterwards return to the left. Replacing military governments in Latin America, leftwing governments were most influential in reducing social inequality and the unequal distribution of income. It was also they who integrated Latin America socially and politically with the rest of the world. Under Pink Tide governments, 56 million people had left poverty. Policies which have led to this change are still very popular in Latin America. They envisage a continent with a more equitable distribution of income, better integrated with the world but also with greater independence. According to a 2013 study by Latino Barometro, 75 per cent of the population still think that the income distribution is inequitable. For rightwing parties to remain in power, they need to implement some left leaning policies. When the conservatives came to power in Chile in 2010, they continued the social programmes put in place by the leftwing governments. In Argentina the newly elected protectionist Marci has promised to continue some of Kirchner’s social policies. It seems that even if the Pink Tide does not return to power in the future, leftwing policies will continue to be effective for a time. by İrem Göl

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