Last Sunday, the much- awaited results of the presidential election in Brazil were announced. As expected, the two- time president from 2002 to 2010- Luis Inacio Lula da Silva- defeated his arch rival and the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the run off as the first round was indecisive with Lula receiving 43.43% as against 43.20% received by Bolsonaro. In the runoff, Socialist leader Lula secured 50.9% of the total valid votes as against 49.1% received by his opponent and far right leader.
By Amb JK Tripathi
Curiously, the difference between the votes received by the two candidates is 21,39,644 which is less than half of 57,00443 votes found invalid. This means the election could have swung either way had there not been so many invalid votes. Congratulatory messages to septuagenarian Lula from world leaders including Joe Biden are pouring in. The incumbent president has accepted the result of the elections throughout the campaign he had been claiming that the elections through electronic ballot will be manipulated against him.
What brought the downfall of Bolsonaro who now has the dubious distinction of being the first sitting president to lose the election for the second term (Brazilian constitution allows only two consecutive terms for the president)? Bolsonaro came to power riding on a promise to route the rampant corruption in Brazilian system and accusing Lula of the same, he ensured to imprison the former president. In 2017, Lula was charged with corrupt practices using Petrobras, the Brazilian Petroleum giant, and was sent behind bars by a judge Sergio Moro who was later made Minister of Justice by Bolsonaro (perhaps for his loyal services to the President) thus making Lula ineligible for election.
However, the Supreme Court of Brazil released Lula in 2019 and Moro also fell off with the President. Bolsonaro, however, could not deliver on his promises and rather failed miserably to put a brake on the sliding economy, rising corruption and his own somewhat whimsical policies. During the major part of the Covid 19 pandemic, Bolsonaro simply denied its existence and refused to impose any preventive measure including lockdown on the grounds that such a step would severely hurt the country’s economy. This led the Brazilian people recall the Lula period from 2002 to 2010 when economy was thriving and many social welfare schemes like Bolsa Familia (family packet) were introduced for uplifting the poor. Moreover, the indiscreet deforestation of Amazon forests with the government’s approval and plan has led to merciless deforestation of an area more than three times of New York city. Thus, Lula’s come back was expected albeit with a larger margin.
The Brazilian elections will certainly have a ripple effect in the region and is seen as abig victory for the left-oriented leaders. With more than half of the total area and around 52% population of entire Latin America, Brazil’s switch over to the socialist government is indicative of the revival of the “Pink Tide” which swept the continent in the early years of the current century. This “Turn to left” was started in protest of the “Neo-liberalism” in the continent which was patronised by the successive US administrations.
The three flag-bearers or, in the words of the current Vice President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, three musketeers of the Pink Tide were Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula da Silva of Brazil and Evo Morales of Bolivia. While Chavez ruled till his death in 2013 and his party is still in power, Lula’s party came back to power after six years and Morales’ party still continues in Bolivia sans Morales except for a brief period in 2020. However, a look at the parties ruling all the Latin American and Caribbean countries presents the fact that the entire continent except Antigua, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay has turned pink. And except Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, this pink tide is a comparatively new phenomenon which has taken place after 2018 only.
People from the countries like Mexico, Chile and even Colombia have elected socialist or the ‘Left of the Centre’ parties to power causing much consternation to the USA and its allies.
Last year’s analysis made by the Dutch Investment Bank ING in a note that “Latin American politicians have already made a decision to shift to the left in 2021 and it is not yet over” has proved right. The same analysis also professed that “2022 would be a big political year for Latin America with election in two powerful countries-Brazil and Colombia” and that “Right wing incumbents are now vulnerable in the continent” have also been vindicated. However, the interesting fact is that most of the new leaders, who came to power due to the pink tide, are youths with new ideas and energy. In the views of John Cavanagh, a senior analyst with the Washington institute of Policy Study, “they are less macho and more inclined towards young voters”.
Now the question is why over 90% of Latin America and the Caribbeans have turned left? The answer lies in the recent economic history of the continent. Rich with mineral resources, most of these countries, treated as the backyard of the USA, had been systematically plundered by the developed countries led by the United States. Frequent regime changes, tacitly sponsored by the American administration to suit its political ambitions by not only tolerating but even giving a free hand to the newly- installed dictatorial regimes in various countries of the region, has created much anti- America sentiments. The economic woes caused by the oligarchic policies of these dictators widened the gap between the haves and the have nots thus compelling the masses to seek a change to socialist regimes.
Another major factor is the increasing presence of China in the Latin American Countries (LAC). While the USA was busy in engineering regime change in the region, China was clandestinely making inroads into the Central and South America. This can be understood from the trade and investment figures issued from time to time. According to the report of the World Economic Forumissued in 2021, while the US trade with the LAC grew from US$ 125,54 billion in 2000 to $ 219;56 billion, Chinese trade with the region jumped from $ 12 billion to $ 315 billion thus registering a 26- fold increase during the same period. Similarly, the last year’s UNCTAD report reveals that while the capital stock of US investment in the region was US $ 263.78 billion, the corresponding figure for China stood at $ 629.8 billion! The Chinese presence in Latin America has certainly started paying political dividends.
However, it seems that the west in general and the USA in particular, have not learnt any lesson so far from the turn of tide in the region. In the Summit of Americas held in California in June this year, the Biden administration did not invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela protesting which Mexico boycotted the summit alleging that a summit of Americas must include all countries in the region. The fractured summit could not achieve much to celebrate.
The resource-rich LAC will be further alienated from the USA if the countries of the region, irrespective of their individual size and economy, are not given the identity they deserve in regional and international fora. The ‘White man’s burden” has lost its relevance.
This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.