Exit Latin America’s Left

BOGOTA – The crushing defeat of the long-ruling Chavista government in Venezuela’s recent parliamentary election, together with the end of 12 years of Peronist rule in Argentina, mark the end of a cycle of left-wing hegemony in much of Latin America. But this is not a political watershed marking the renewal of ideological confrontation. Rather, it is a measured transition toward political pragmatism. And it is very good news.

Perhaps the best evidence that this is not an ideologically-driven sea change is to be found in what triggered it: an economic downturn. For over a decade, the region relied on “Socialism of the Twenty-First Century,” which Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, used to galvanize groupings like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and Petrocaribe, an oil alliance including Caribbean states and Venezuela. But economic collapse, hyperinflation, and food shortages have destroyed faith in that system.

It should be noted that the very same factors, largely the result of unforgiving global conditions, enabled Latin America’s leftist parties to win and consolidate power by blaming the market-oriented policies that preceded them. Brazilians elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency in 2002, and Argentinians chose Néstor Kirchner in 2003. Financial meltdown restored the Institutional Revolutionary Party to power in Mexico in 2012, and Michelle Bachelet’s leftist Nueva Mayoría party won in Chile in 2013.

Leftist governments then took advantage of a sustained commodities boom to increase spending on consumer subsidies and social welfare, without depending on international creditors. From 2003, the year of Kirchner’s election, to 2011, when his wife and successor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected to her second term in a landslide, soybean prices rose by more than 7% annually, on average, boosting overall GDP growth.