Latin America: Populism and the People

Source: Dissent Magazine

This article is part of a forum on the lessons of Latin America’s “pink tide” for democratic socialists. To read the rest of the forum, click here.

In his essay “The Path to Democratic Socialism: Lessons from Latin America,” Patrick Iber encourages leftists hopeful for democratic socialism in the United States to learn from leftist governments in the Americas rather than those in Scandinavia. He asserts (correctly, in my view) that almost two decades of “pink tide” governments in Latin America, which at their peak collectively ruled two-thirds of the regions population, hold important lessons for those seeking “radical, democratic, and participatory reorganization of economic control.” Such a radical reorganization of power, he writes, constitutes a better way to conceive of democratic socialism than the usual conflation with the “social democratic” welfare state models of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Exactly what lessons can be drawn from the leftist administrations south of our borders for democratic socialism would thus depend on the interpretation of their achievements and pitfalls.

But Ibers evaluation of these administrations misidentifies the conditions of their ascent to power and the dynamics of their tenure in power. Absent from his account of the rise and rule of the left in Latin America are the central protagonists of this profound shift away from the neoliberal policies that dominated the region in the 1980s and ‘90s: social movements. These movements, based in the “popular sectors” of labor, peasant, indigenous, and urban neighborhood groups, emerged as forceful collective actors. They resisted the onslaught of privatization, deregulation, and austerity imposed by a coalition of domestic elites, often under pressure from international financial institutions and the United States. The rise of an electorally successful left can only be understood as the product of this longer process of struggle.

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