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What does the decline of the left in Latin America mean for human rights?

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For some time now, there has been talk of the decline of the left in Latin America. The so-called Bolivarian Group, mainly formed by the key initiator countries of “Socialism of the 21st century” in the region, i.e. Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, is beginning to show signs that regime change is happening slowly in these countries. While those who joined them for the purposes of establishing political similarities, such as Argentina and Brazil, have already left the model or are in the process of doing so.

The "Golden Age" of Latin American left-wing politics? Fórum Social Mundial in 2009. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr via wikipedia.org, CC BY 3.0 BR

The “Golden Age” of Latin American left-wing politics? Fórum Social Mundial in 2009. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr via wikipedia.org, CC BY 3.0 BR

Argentina was the first country to change from a left-leaning government to a right-wing one. In December 2015, Mauricio Macri succeeded Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and since then the country has entered a process of liberalizing the economy. These days Brazil has seen how President Dilma Rousseff was removed from government in an impeachment process that was orchestrated by the Brazilian right wing party. On the other hand, in February this year, Evo Morales lost the referendum that would have allowed him to apply for one more period of government. However, the Morales government will still conclude its current mandate in 2020.

The Venezuela case is very different from the above examples. Since the death of Hugo Chavez and Maduro’s rise to power, the government, and the country’s general situation, is deteriorating and nobody has any idea when it will get better. In Ecuador, the government of President Correa, while relatively stable, is using more repressive measures and greater surveillance, which is usually not a good sign.

It should be mentioned that in Latin America, what is usually termed ‘the left’, consists of: populists, socialists, radicals, moderates etc. Although, in popular understanding they are all basically the same. Certainly, a similar thing can be said of the right. It is obvious that not all parties ascribing to the right are the same. In any case, a common denominator of leftist governments, among others, is handling the economy with greater involvement of the state, contrary to the neoliberal model where the state gives predominance to the free market.

What happened between the community and the left?

At this point, the main question is: what happened between the community and the left? How did the disenchantment emerge? The answers are different for each case, but in all there is an important element: power weariness. In Argentina, the Kirchners remained in power 12 years, in Brazil Workers’ Party dominated for 13 years, Evo Morales has spent 10 years as president in Bolivia with the prospect of 4 more years and Venezuela has 17 years with the regime of the Bolivarian Revolution. Rafael Correa in Ecuador has 9 years of government and his current term ends in 2017. In other words, governments are too power hungry.

Another variable to consider, especially in the Brazilian case, is the profuse activity of right-wing groups working to widely disseminate their ideas among young people while simultaneously encouraging popular protests against the government. In several other cases the right wing parties are modernizing their image too, while the left continues to be tied to speeches and proposals of the last century.

Young people, who are one of the main voting groups in the region, are calling for new ways of doing things. This sentiment seems to be building a disenchantment with the left and its way of doing politics. It is not reckless to say that a growing perception about the left is of unfulfilled promises. In the end, it really felt like  it was “more of the same.” Falling into the vices and customs of politicians of the past, i.e. desires to remain in power for the sake of power, nepotism, the creation of economic power elites, and corruption.

The changes that are taking place do not predict a great future for ordinary citizens

In the months following the new Macri government in Argentina, several measures have been taken which affect the majority of the population, such as the update of the exchange rate and the subsequent adjustment of utility rates. Employee layoffs, according to a report, have reached the figure of 141,542.  Even when a bill to prohibit layoffs was proposed, it was vetoed by the executive.

In Brazil it was announced that the first measures of the new government will be to reduce public spending, including layoffs of state officials and subsidies for social programs will be eliminated, among other measures. And while on one hand the IMF has applauded these actions, organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have expressed concerns about the future of human rights in the country, by measures such as the elimination of the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights. Similar concerns have been expressed in Argentina, too. The image of the left is that it is usually associated with the defence and protection of human rights, unlike the common associations of the right.

Thus, projecting a little to the near future in which the region has a majority of neoliberal governments with similar trends to those already seen, and also to repression and disregard of human rights, we consulted the sociologist and Venezuelan human rights activist Rafael Uzcategui about this.

He thinks that: “The first work of activists will be to defend the social gains achieved under the principle of the “progressivity” of rights. This means that any public policy can be reviewed, but its results should maintain or increase rights, not reduce them. In the second place, given the intense polarization that “progressive” governments have generated, they must defend a second principle: the “non-discrimination”, moving from a perspective of a “majorities” democracy to a vision of a “democracy of rights.” This means we must be alert to policies of criminalization, exclusion and ostracism as a means of retaliation in the case of bureaucratic replacement of state management. In addition, to continue working for the defense of peasant and indigenous communities against the rise of extractivism (a development model that has deepened in the region relying on the consensus of “progressives” and “conservatives” governments and will surely continue inside the management of these new governments) which increases the stake of private, domestic or the foreign sector and generates more favorable conditions for investment at the expense of increasing socio-environmental impacts.”

It should also be noted that leftist or slightly progressive governments, are not just ruling at the presidential level, but also include the multitude of mayors and governors in different cities and regions that make up the whole region, and where the same dynamics are a given. Bogota, Colombia, is a case in point, where the mayor who took office this year has prepared a plan of government quite opposite to the former leftist mayor.

We also chatted with Catalina Restrepo, a Colombian social worker and expert on human rights, on the future challenges for human rights in the region. She states that “It can be said that the ideological change by which Latin America is going through will bring challenges not only in economic terms (those mentioned by analysts) but because of the exercise of human rights. Both right and left have their own conceptions about them; and while when left is in electoral campaign it is shown as a scenario to exercise freedoms and claims, the realities of power and the economic situation made the rod remained high on expectations of many sectors of the population and civil society. So it is about the next governments, of any political spectrum, not only assume the current debts in human rights, but demonstrate that their vision of them combines with the current needs of the territories that expect to increase their rights, not reduce them.”

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Juan Arellano Twitter: @cyberjuanJuan

Juan Arellano Valdivia, 51 years old, former System programmer. I worked 12 years as analyst/developer at Minero Perú SA, then another 5 years as Operations Manager at IPSS/ESSALUD. After a time devoted to personal business returned to the public admin as head of collections at Municipalidad de Maynas, Iquitos. I´ve also worked in ONPE, the National Office of Electoral Processes, as supervisor at the Regional Coordination. In 2004, with some friends we developed "BlogsPerú" the first blogs directory in Peru. Since 2007 I work as Global Voices en español Editor. I´ve also collaborated in the "Información Cívica" project from OSI, and collaborate with "Periodismo Ciudadano" and "Distintas Latitudes" websites, among others.

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