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A new Pink Tide in the Americas? Not so fast …

. Nov 04, 2020
A new Pink Tide in the Americas? Not so fast … Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves during a 2019 summit of conservative South American leaders in Santiago. Photo: José Dias/PR

In 2019, Latin America endured a veritable political earthquake. Crises in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru led to riots, coups, and the dissolving of local congresses. One year on, we are beginning to see the effects of this unrest at the ballot boxes.

Argentina went first at the end of last year, voting out neoliberal President Maurício Macri and turning left. In October, Bolivia swept the Movement for Socialism party back into power in a landslide victory, less than 12 months after Evo Morales had been ousted in a conservative-backed military coup. Progressive forces won in Chile’s constitutional referendum just weeks later.

In Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, the left is hopeful of victory in the 2021 general elections. Meanwhile,

Donald Trump&#8217;s hopes for a second term are growing increasingly slim in the U.S., as key states have either been <a href="https://www.axios.com/biden-trump-wisconsin-results-0b87eff2-673d-4781-9ef2-23a7008c365d.html">called for Joe Biden</a> or are leaning towards the Democratic candidate. These recent political developments sparked a groundswell of optimism for the left appears to be sweeping the Americas. </p> <p>Pundits, however, deny the possibility of a second &#8216;Pink Tide&#8217; in the region.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/0MhYeM93rKuQp0EvqN9GXI" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>How the 2000s Pink Tide came to be?</h2> <p>The <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2018/08/19/fall-south-america-pink-tide/">Pink Tide</a> was a political phenomenon seen in Latin America between the late 1990s through to the 2010s. Across the region, countries elected popular and often charismatic leaders running on center-left platforms, hence the use of the colour pink. It began with the rise of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998 and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, four years later. The two presidents challenged the long-standing liberal power structure in their respective countries, and were soon followed by Néstor Kirchner (Argentina), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Fernando Lugo (Paraguay).</p> <p>The Pink Tide has been framed as a response to climbing inequality rates throughout the region in the 1990s. According to a 2012 World Bank report, entitled &#8220;<a href="https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentredirects?url=/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2012/10/23/000158349_20121023093211/Rendered/PDF/wps6248.pdf">Declining Inequality in Latin America in the 2000s</a>,&#8221; wealth distribution improved in the 2000s, with the region&#8217;s Gini coefficient falling from 0.530 in the 1990s to 0.497 in the decade to come. As a measure of inequality, the closer to one a country ranks on the Gini scale, the more unequal it is.&nbsp;</p> <p>These center-left governments were given a stroke of fortune along the way, in the shape of a commodities boom. A growing demand from markets in China and India saw the price of oil, gas, ore, and agricultural products skyrocket, from which Latin America benefited hugely.</p> <p>Trade between Latin America and China <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/04/04/china-brazil-biggest-trade-partner/">grew 22 percent</a> between 2000 and 2013. In Brazil, the share of the country&#8217;s exports sent to China rose from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 14.5 percent 11 years later, with China becoming Brazil&#8217;s top trade partner as of 2009.</p> <p>The wave passed, however, pushed by the effects of the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S., which took longer to hit Latin America. When recession did set in, however, it hit hard and populations in several countries demanded change.</p> <h2>It&#8217;s the economy, stupid</h2> <p>One lost decade later, relatively little has changed. Fatigued governments and feeble GDP growth were compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands, left millions out of work, and thrown up some of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2019/11/23/latin-america-boom-bust-frustrations/">worst growth estimates</a> in over a century. In this scenario, alongside recent electoral results, there have been some suggestions that a second Pink Tide could be incoming.</p> <p>However, for Daniela Campello, Latin America researcher at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas, a new political scenario is indeed on the horizon, but not necessarily drawn along the left-right lines of the Pink Tide.</p> <p>“What we have are governments that have been ‘punished’ by the <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/01/13/pension-systems-latin-america-ticking-time-bomb/">economic scenario</a> in which they lead their countries,&#8221; she tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. &#8220;We can see these shifts as a response to the economic moment which the region is once again facing.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>Uruguay is a good example of Ms. Campello’s argument, showing how Latin American countries appear to be chained to recurring economic cycles reflecting on electoral results. There, the center-left Broad Front party was &#8216;punished&#8217; for timid economic growth, being voted out in 2019 after 15 years running the country, with liberal Luis Lacalle Pou taking the reins.</p> <p>With Latin America&#8217;s boom-bust economies, governments tend to fall when countries go through hard times, regardless of whether they sit on the left or right. According to Ms. Campello, the Covid-19 recession — as with the crippling inequality of the 1990s — is simply leading populations to seek alternatives at the ballot box. Or, in the cases of Brazil and Bolivia, where former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Evo Morales were ousted by parliament and the military-backed right-wing, respectively.</p> <p>Paraphrasing Bill Clinton&#8217;s strategist James Carville in the 1992 presidential campaign, it&#8217;s not another Pink Tide, <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/b8e4f7c8-5070-11e9-9c76-bf4a0ce37d49">it&#8217;s the economy, stupid</a>.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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