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Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, attends a military ceremony in Quito marking Independence Day. Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, attends a military ceremony marking Independence Day, Quito, Aug. 10, 2017 (AP photo by Dolores Ochoa).

Latin America's 'Pink Tide' Recedes

Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018

The so-called Pink Tide ushered in leftist governments in Latin America, but something went wrong. Find out more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

It wasn’t very long ago that Latin American voters, in country after country, began electing leftist presidents. The new crop of leaders that rose to power over the past few decades occupied a wide range of positions along the ideological spectrum, advocating leftist policies that varied mightily—from mild income redistribution projects to aggressive nationalization programs. But the trend toward leftist governments in Latin America was unmistakable. Some dubbed it the “pink tide.” That tide is now receding with as much force as it came ashore.

The movement’s high-water mark came during the presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan firebrand who tried to build, rally and finance a coalition of leftist leaders across the hemisphere. Roughly a decade after Chavez came to power in 1999, leftist politicians had scored impressive victories, capturing the presidency in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. Now that long list is dwindling.

Despite maneuvers that have allowed several—though not all—of these leftist presidents to erode democratic norms, often by dismantling term limits and taking control of electoral boards, the number of leftist governments in Latin America is growing shorter. And just as significantly, some of the presidents who remain in office after moving to secure multiple terms are facing the wrath of a public fed up with the reversal of their country’s democratic progress.

To find out more about Latin America’s Pink Tide, and why once-popular leftist leaders are facing an increasingly antagonistic public, read Latin America’s ‘Pink Tide’ Is Receding With as Much Force as It Came Ashore for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

The Rise and Fall of Socialism In Latin America Leaves Venezuela in Shambles

The poster child of what went wrong with the Pink Tide was also its birthplace: Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, who electrified Latin America’s left with his “21st-century socialism.” In the early days of socialist rule in Venezuela, Chavez inspired leftist leaders across the region who started taking power in democratic elections. But Venezuela’s socialist experiment has turned into a spectacular disaster, propelling the retreat of Latin America’s Pink Tide. The aftermath of the country’s recent presidential election has unleashed a torrent of diplomatic activity in the region as a bloc of Latin American countries ponder the daunting question of how to help the beleaguered Venezuelan people dislodge a government that has brought a multiplicity of maladies—from scarcity of every conceivable consumer product, including food and medicines, to rampant crime, economic depression and epic levels of inflation.

Venezuela’s collapse has spawned a series of humanitarian emergencies across the region, and left regional governments scrambling to find a way to reverse the country’s decline. To learn more, read How Secure Is Maduro After Venezuela’s Sham Election? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.


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Argentina Shows How the Political Tide Could Turn Again

For those who are tempted to see an unstoppable trend in the declining sway of leftist politics in Latin America, however, Argentina provides a cautionary example. One of the first signs of the receding Pink Tide was the 2015 presidential election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina. Macri promised that his plan for liberal economic reforms, though painful at first, would reignite economic growth after years of stagnation and contain inflation, a chronic problem for Argentina. Yet after more than three years, the second part of the deal has not come true for many Argentines, who seem to be losing their patience. Macri’s gradualism—including trade liberalization, the promotion of market competition and the reduction of Argentina’s fiscal deficit by cutting massive state subsidies—simply hasn’t delivered results yet. Macri has faced a string of bad economic news, which has increased popular discontent and fired up a resurgent opposition.

Macri’s rise provided the promise of an alternative to the left- and right-wing populism that has ruled Argentina for decades. But his political fortunes could turn if his reforms don’t start showing results soon. To find out more, read Argentina Is Getting Impatient With Macri’s Painful Economic Reforms for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

After the Pink Tide, a Drift to the Far Right?

As Latin America’s Pink Wave recedes, the results of Brazil’s recent presidential election raise the question of whether events in this bellwether country will usher in a new far-right wave, potentially undercutting democratic gains in a region that struggled for decades to build democracies. Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, won the presidency despite having spoken favorably of Brazil’s past military dictatorship, including its record of torture. Latin America is at an inflection point. Voters are deciding which economic and social ideas to support. The leftist governments of the Pink Tide have lost their allure, and centrist alternatives are struggling. The continent is in search of new ideas. And Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil is proof that a model under consideration is one that has been making gains in other parts of the world: an illiberal, authoritarian, irreverent presidency, with an uncertain ultimate destination as it drifts more to the far right.

Jair Bolsonaro's victory in Brazil's presidential election raises a new possibility for Latin America: a return to far-right, anti-democratic governments. To learn more, read Is a Far-Right Wave Building in Latin America, Beginning in Brazil? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.


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Editor's Note: This article was first published in September 2018 and is regularly updated.