The gradual deterioration of the economic situation and the discredit of democracy led citizens to seek alternatives to progressive governments. A New Right appeared in the region with the script already known: “a heavy-handed approach to end violence, corruption, and neoliberalism.”
The populism-neoliberalism pendulum in Latin America
In 2015, Macri was elected in Argentina. He will remember for having been the first non-Peronist government that finished a mandate since the return of democracy in 1983. Nothing more. In four years, the Macri government deepened the country’s delicate socio-economic situation. Argentina has an inflation rate of 57.3%, one of the highest in the world, and its public debt of 77.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the highest in the region.
The Argentine economy closed the year with a negative economic growth rate of 3.1% Poverty went from 30% in 2016 to 35.4% in 2019; the unemployment rate doubled in the same period, currently being 10%, and almost half of its population is underemployed.
In the elections of October 27, 2019, Peronism once again won an election in Argentina. The formula of the Front of All, led by Alberto Fernández and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, won in the first round with 48.26% of the votes against 40.28% obtained by Mauricio Macri de Juntos por el Cambio. In 2023, when 40 years of democracy will celebrate in Argentina since 1983, Peronism, in its neoliberal or populist variants, will have governed the country for 28 years, while non-Peronist governments only 12 years.
Sebastián Piñera in Chile, in December 2017, ended the social democratic government of Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018), and appeared as the regional consolidation to the right. However, since October, Chile has been experiencing one of the most profound social, economic and political crises in its history. Chile is the second most unequal country in the region, behind Brazil, 1% of its population concentrates 26, 5% of the national wealth. “It is not 30 pesos, it is 30 years of abuse.“
The phrase of one of the protesters who joined the protests alludes to the structural socio-economic problems of Chilean democracy that have been accumulating for decades. The student protests (2011-2013) demanded more public education from the Chilean state and were an essential factor in ending the first Piñera government (2010-2014).
Since the return of democracy in 1989, none of the governments has altered neoliberal economic policies, and the Constitution inherited by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989). In response to the protests, the Piñera government decreed the state of siege. The police actions against protesters recalled the worst times of the authoritarian regime.
Finally, the president-in-office had to give in to one of the protesters’ demands. He called a referendum for April 2020 to open the debate to reform the Constitution. The crisis is still open, and the violence does not stop. The question that arises is whether the discussion on constitutional reform will close or open the debate to implement social and economic policies to build a more egalitarian Chilean society in response to the demands of the street?
In Bolivia, Evo Morales, in power since 2005, intended to be reelected for a new presidential term. During his fourteen years of government, the Bolivian economy grew at an average rate of 4% thanks to the favourable cycle in the price of raw materials, particularly gas. The poverty rate fell from 59% to 39%, and it was one of the countries where inequality in the region felt the most.
However, the reasons for the coup d were political. Bolivia continues to be a society divided by social and racial fractures. “They carry out the coup d’etat to defend the wealthy people. They use planes and helicopters to intimidate the people. This is a class problem,” said the former president in an interview with the newspaper El País from his first exile in Mexico, before going into exile in Argentina.
Evo Morales has lost the referendum that enabled him for new re-election in 2016. However, with the permission of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), he was able to compete in a new presidential election. Since then, a climate of discontent has opened in specific sectors of society, particularly in the urban white elite. The number of votes gave him a winner, but the opposition accused him of fraud.
The OAS legitimized that position by denouncing “irregularities” in the vote counting. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research based in Washinton, the accusation was unfounded. Beyond whether or not there was a fraud on the part of Evo Morales, nothing justifies the coup d’état by the army. Later, together with the police, they have begun a persecution of the MAS leaders, and indiscriminate repression of the protests against the coup d’état, which has already caused more than 35 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The former coca grower leader from his exile in Argentina intends to reorganize MAS for the new presidential elections this year.
In Brazil, the right-wing wanted by all means to prevent another mandate from the Workers’ Party (PT) after 13 years in office. Dilma Rousseff’s dismissal by the Brazilian Senate in 2016, and Lula’s arrest in 2018, when he had the highest intention to vote in the polls, achieved the objective. Jair Bolsonaro, a former military man, was elected in the second round by the Social Liberal Party (PSL), with 55% of the votes against Haddad’s 44% the PT’s candidate.
The triumph of the “God and Brazil above all” a party with a neoliberal economic tendency, praises the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985) and aims to eliminate all the social and economic rights achieved during the Workers Party’ governments. Since the PT left the government, international concern about the development of extractive projects in the Amazon has been rising, in one of the countries in the world where leaders and militants of environmental movements are most killed. Lula, after being released from prison, recently announced that he would radicalize the fight against Bolsonaro’s authoritarian and neoliberal policies.
Post-extractivism, inequality and climate change
Since the return of democracy in the 1980s in Latin America, it has already accumulated four decades without being able to define an economic, political, social and environmental direction that allows responding to the socio-economic structural problems of the region. Neither to the technological and economic challenges that the new numerical economy and climate change pose to work. Latin American economies continue to be highly dependent on the export of primary products, hydrocarbons, and mining.
In the last five years-period was one of the worst in terms of economic growth in the previous 70 years. In 2020, according to forecasts by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the region will grow barely 1.3 percent. An insufficient rate to reduce poverty and unemployment rates in the region.Print