Latin America sees second leftist wave

Latin America sees second leftist wave

In 2014, there were presidential elections in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, with right-of-center and pro-business parties losing every contest.

In December 2013, GRI noted that 2014 would be a pivotal year for the political direction of Latin America mainly because there would be seven presidential electoral contests taking place. Pro-market candidates have been defeated in every contest and 2014 can be safely catalogued as a forgettable year for right of center interests in the region.

A second leftist wave has arrived in Latin America. This wave complements the previous leftist surge of the early and mid-2000s and reinforces the geopolitical foothold of established ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) leaders, such as Nicolas Maduro, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales.

Unless there is a case of a coup or resignation, the ALBA leaders are here to stay until the end of the decade. Maduro and Correa were reelected in 2013 and Morales in October of this year. The ALBA establishment now has company.

They are joined by recently elected presidents Salvador Sanchez (El Salvador), Luis Guillermo Solis (Costa Rica), Carlos Varela (Panama), Juan Manuel Santos  (Colombia), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), and Tabare Vazquez (Uruguay) as the new group of left-leaning Latin American presidents.

The results from the seven presidential contests of 2014 demonstrate that the 2010s will be a decade marked by leftism in the region.

Left of center candidates did not shy away from reminding the electorate of their success during the first decade of the 2000s. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, for example, took advantage of her predecessor’s (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) popularity to win the heated second round of the October presidential elections. The same applies in Bolivia—leftist candidate Evo Morales pounded messages of successful continuity on social and economic fronts to win the election by an immense margin.

Although Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos is not a full-fledged leftist, he has definitely swayed to the left in his first term in office, which sparked the creation of Centro Democratico, the right of center opposition party. Santos beat his opposition by rallying around his administration’s economic successes and reminding the electorate that the social and economic progress of his administration would be jeopardized by a change in government. Santos gained the endorsement of leftist interests in the second round of elections, a necessary step to win a majority of the electorate.

The electoral strategy of Central American center left parties in 2014 is markedly different from their South American counterparts. In Panama and Costa Rica, incumbent parties were dethroned with messages calling for a national redirection and political change. In El Salvador, the incumbent party also won with the message of change by introducing an unorthodox presidential candidate—a previous guerrilla commandant from the Salvadorian civil war.

In Panama, the right of center incumbent Cambio Democratico party (CD), led by former president and business magnate Ricardo Martinelli, was beat by the nationalist Panameñista party, which is governing with the leftist Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD). The Panameñistas is not necessarily leftist, but their coalition with the PRD will push them to the left.

The most important dimension of the Panamanian case is not necessarily that the Panameñistas won, but that the CD lost the presidency—the CD had a pro-business agenda focused almost entirely on strengthening growth and increasing capital inflows.

A Panameñista-PRD government will focus more on social issues such as decreasing inequality. However, considering that the CD has retained a strong legislative opposition block, the incoming government will probably have a tough time retracting liberal economic measures adopted by the CD.

In Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis and his left of center Partido de Accion Ciudadana (PAC) will be in power until 2018. The right, however, is not well represented in Costa Rican politics. The losing party in the 2014 elections, Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN), is also identified as a left of center party.

In El Salvador, the incumbent Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), the largest left of center political party, won the presidential elections by 300,000 votes.

The results of the 2014 presidential elections demonstrate that pro-business interests lost ground. Regardless, we are already witnessing that this second wave of leftist presidents may not be as radical as the last. For example, President Rousseff in Brazil seems much more amenable in the first days of her second term, promising political and economic reform and appointing a market friendlier cabinet and economic team.

The Santos administration in Colombia has already proposed a tax increase on the wealthy, but his recent trips to Brussels and New York demonstrate that he is committed to attracting foreign investment and trade. In Uruguay, leftist candidate Tabare Vazquez is vocal about his left leaning stances on social issues, but there is no indication that he will become belligerent towards foreign capital.

Panama will most likely remain a liberalized market, as left leaning interests in the isthmus do not have the political strength to override years of economic growth centered on an open market.

Perhaps, the incoming leftist wave is one that has no option but incorporate investors in the decision-making process. Looking forward, all eyes remain on the Argentinian 2015 elections—the second leftist wave could engulf the entire region if the Kirchnerists win.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Daniel Lemaitre

Daniel is a GRI Senior Analyst. He has worked in policy research centered on the political economy of the Andean region in the public, NGO, and private sectors. Daniel holds an MSc in Comparative Political Economy from the London School of Economics, concentrating on Latin American markets.