Democratic Lefts in Latin America / Jaime Rivera Velázquez

By Jaime Rivera Velazquez
Counselor of the INE

It is true that the traditional scheme of left and right is less and less relevant to differentiate the different political options. Today the contrast between democratic and authoritarian options matters more and, when it comes to social justice, results count more than intentions. In the field of the democratic left in Latin America, the successful Chilean, Brazilian and Uruguayan experiences stand out.

In Chile, in 1970 the socialist Salvador Allende he came to the presidency by democratic means, but with an electoral and parliamentary minority that made government action very difficult. Chilean society became polarized, the economy collapsed, the right-wing opposition became radicalized, and finally the military ended the leftist government and democracy. The democratic transition after the dictatorship was spearheaded by an alliance between Christian Democrats and Socialists. His motto was reformism, not radical change. They took advantage of a growing economy inherited by the dictatorship, introduced moderate social changes and consolidated the recovered democratic institutions.

The most outstanding president of the Concertación governments was the socialist Ricardo Lagos, elected after two Christian Democrat presidents. When Lagos exiled during the military dictatorship, he already had a doctorate in economics obtained in the United States. The young man Lagos He was never part of the Latin American Marxist and revolutionary currents, but rather of a reformist left that was inspired by the progressive liberal currents of the United States, the Scandinavian social democracy and, above all, the Spanish transition and the successive governments of Philip Gonzalez. Lagos he assumed that a moderate Spanish-speaking left was possible in its policies, but not in its ambitions. A redistributive policy through the construction of a welfare state within capitalism. As president (2000-2004), Lagos promoted the investigation of crimes during the dictatorship, while promoting national reconciliation, supported the liberal economy, although accentuated social reforms such as education; raised tax collection, modernized transportation, combated extreme poverty. He was always respectful of freedoms and the opposition. In all fairness, Lagos He is today the most respected and loved former president by Chileans.

A Lagos he was succeeded by the also socialist Michelle Bachelet, who had held the health and defense portfolios in the presidency of Lagos. She was president in two non-immediate periods. He gave continuity to the policies of Lagos, although over time he paid the cost of political attrition and unresolved social problems.

In Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, metalworker and union leader, in the 1980s he organized numerous strikes against the military dictatorship and made a decisive contribution to Brazilian democratization. Founder of the Workers’ Party, he won the presidency in 2002, after three unsuccessful attempts. His government was characterized by an intense social policy, through programs such as Zero Hunger or Bolsa Familia, with which he lifted 30 million people out of extreme poverty. At the same time, Lula continued the successful economic policy of his predecessor, the liberal social democrat Fernando Henrique Cardoso, which allowed it to take advantage of the international boom in raw materials and boost the oil industry through a public-private partnership scheme. Beyond his ideological discourse (which still defends the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan regimes), Lula he was a pragmatic president and negotiator. He left the presidency after two terms, invested with great national and international popularity. her successor Dilma Rousseff, a member of the same party, gave continuity to his policies. However, to Dilma it was affected by the fall in the price of raw materials that slowed down economic growth; he later faced accusations of corruption that would lead to his dismissal and imprisonment of the same Lula, currently exonerated.

Less visible than the Chilean and Brazilian experiences, but exemplary for their democratic spirit and their social achievements, have been the governments of the Broad Front of Uruguay. After the civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985), the Broad Front had the opportunity to grow and modernize. Tabare Vazquez, a doctor and professor with studies in France, in 2004 won the presidential election. In his government, the traditional Uruguayan welfare state was expanded and strengthened, the disappeared during the dictatorship were searched for and progressive public policies were promoted in environmental matters, personal freedoms and access to technology. TO Tabare it happened to him Jose Mujica, also a member of the Broad Front. Even if Mujica He had been a Tupamaro guerrilla in his youth, as president he adopted a moderate and pragmatic policy. Beyond his image of extreme austerity and his picturesque sayings, he basically continued and deepened the policies of Tabare: Marijuana was legalized, a law against gender violence was approved, sexual diversity rights were guaranteed. In 2014, Tabare Vazquez again he was elected president. The 15 years of government of the Broad Front reaffirmed Uruguay as the country with the least inequality in Latin America and demonstrated that socialist values ​​are not incompatible with prosperity and democracy.

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