The “New Left” in Latin America

        I.            A wave of leftist and left-leaning governments over the last decade

A.      Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, 1998-present

B.      Partido de Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party) in Brazil, 2002-present

1. Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula), 2002-2010

2. Dilma Rouseff elected to succeed Lula in 2011

C.      The Kirchners in Argentina

1. Left-leaning Justicialists (Peronists)

2. Nestor Kirchner, 2003-2007

3. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, 2007-present

D.      Frente Amplia (Broad Front) in Uruguay, 2004-present

1. Tabare Vasquez,  2004-2009

2. Jorge Mujica, 2009-present

E.       Evo Morales (MAS), 2005-present

F.       Michelle Bachalet (Socialist) in Chile , 2006-2010; succeeded by a right-wing president

G.     Daniel Ortega (Sandinista) in Nicaragua, 2006-present

H.      Rafael Correa in Equador, 2006-present

      II.            Decline and Reemergence of the Latin American Left

A.      The “Washington Consensus” of the 1990s

1.  All Latin American countries except Cuba adopt neo-liberalism to some degree in 1990s

2. Meanwhile, the left seemed to have lost any political relevance

3. Neo-liberal governments focused on market-oriented reforms meant to liberalize the economy

a.       Selling off of state-owned industries

b.      Significant deregulation of economy

c.       Reduction in social spending

d.      Much greater openness to foreign investment

e.      Dropping protectionism in favor of free trade policies

4. In Argentina (Carlos Menem) and Peru (Alberto Fujimori), led by right-wing authoritarian populists

5. These governments achieved growth, but also saw increased impoverishment in lower classes accompanied by increasing concentrations of wealthy

B.      In those countries where neoliberal reforms were not broadly supported by all the major political parties, their failure to advance social progress would provide an opportunity for the Left

    III.            Basic characteristics of the New Left

A.      Rooted in a critique of the neo-liberalism of the 1990s

B.      Willingness to use state power to generate economic growth and correct market failures

C.      Willingness to use state power to address social inequality

D.      Focus on deepening democracy either through popular mobilization or increased participation in political system (or both)

    IV.            A very diverse movement

A.      Broadly divisible into two camps

1.  A radical populist left (Venezuela and Bolivia most strongly)

a.       Heavy emphasis on participatory democracy

b.      Bypassing of traditional political system

c.       Charismatic authoritarian leaders

2.  A moderate social democratic left (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay)

a.       Representative democracy

b.      Participation in traditional political institutions

B.      Yet more complex than this distinction

1.  Post-Marxist well established social democratic parties

a.       In places like Brazil and Chile, long established left-wing parties abandon Marxism

b.      These parties then participate in traditional electoral politics, govern through traditional institutions

2.  Leftist governments rooted in established populist parties

a.       Most obvious with the Kirchners in Argentina

b.      Justicialist (Peronist) Party has always emphasized importance of strong leader, and husband and wife succession emphasizes this

c.       Populist in the sense of focus on popular mobilization and direct democracy often bypassing established institutions, but less so than in Bolivia and Venezuela

3.  Populist left

a.       Top-down mass mobilization

b.      Centered around a charismatic, authoritarian leader – most obvious example is Chavez

c.       General contempt for established political institutions and political parties

d.      Governance through popular referendums and other forms of direct democracy

4. Movement left

a.       Bottom-up mobilization of diverse social movement groups coalesces into successful political party

b.      Most obvious in Bolivia with Evo Morales

c.       Many of the same populist tendencies of  the populist left, but leadership must pay more attention to grass-roots organization than in populist left governments

C.      Generally speaking, only the social democratic left gives evidence of a mature, stable democracy

D.      The others, notably the populist and movement left, reflect a crisis in the democratic system


(based on notes from the Wilson Center's "The 'New Left' and Democratic Governance in Latin America"