Two weeks after his triumph, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva's resounding electoral victory in Brazil is still raising eyebrows on the right and expectations among Latin America's long dispirited leftists. His triumph represents both the symbols and realities of today's Latin America. It symbolizes the impatience of voters who see chronic problems remain unsolved, and it highlights the pervasive belief that right-wing governments are chronically corrupt. As the fog of leftist celebration and the chorus of rightwing laments dissipate, the outlines of what Lula can and cannot do are becoming more clear.
No question: the past ten or twelve years in Latin America represented a turning point for democracy in the region. Honest elections were held almost everywhere, and these delivered a whole new generation of political actors.
Moreover, presidents and former presidents were jailed or interrogated for corruption in Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, as well as in Central America's small republics. Over all this time, however, the new political players and the old parties of the left failed to articulate any coherent alternative social/economic agenda to compete with the prevailing liberal one.
One reason they did not is that political parties across Latin America are divided and decrepit. In Central America, they continuously fragment into ever smaller units that fight for insignificant positions of authority and irrelevant representation.