“In Latin America, the left have not been able to offer a vision of the future”

Argentine historian and journalist Pablo Stefanoni is a member of the Center for Documentation and Research on Left Culture at the National University of San Martin and Editor-in-Chief of the Latin American journal Nueva Sociedad.

Pablo Stefanoni.

It has been said that the Latin American “pink wave” observed from the end of the 1990s refers to two lefts, one moderate or social-liberal, and the other more radical and “populist”. Do you agree with this categorization?

Nowhere else have so many countries in the same region been on the left at the same time. A “period climate”, very critical of neoliberalism, has taken hold. But to speak of “two lefts” amounts to making a value judgment between a “nice” left and a “bad” left. However, the borders between them are fine, and it is not easy to establish which country belongs to which category. Evo Morales [président de 2006 à 2019] in Bolivia was undoubtedly a representative of the populist left. However, its economic policy was seen as prudent, orderly and free from excessive public spending. Conversely, in Brazil, the Workers’ Party [PT] by Luiz Inacio Lula [da Silva, président de 2003 à 2011] was first cataloged in the “nice left” bloc, before being deemed populist. The 2016 protests against President Dilma Rousseff [elle aussi membre du PT, qui succède à Lula] even presented him as a communist.

In addition, the bonds between these two lefts have always been very strong. The presidents of the different currents have founded common spaces, like the Sao Paulo Forum [au Brésil, qui, depuis 1990, rassemble des partis politiques et des organisations de gauche en Amérique latine] or the Puebla Group [composé de dirigeants progressistes latino-américains].

Former Brazilian heads of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, who came to support Anne Hidalgo's candidacy for mayor of Paris on March 2, 2020.

What does the notion of populism cover in Latin America?

It does not have the same connotation as in Europe, nor does the terms “right” and “left”. There is a Latin American tradition called “national-popular”, linked to a long anti-imperialist – that is to say anti-American – past since the 1920s. In addition, Peronism in Argentina, aprism [du nom du parti révolutionnaire APRA] in Peru, varguism [du nom du président Getulio Vargas, 1930-1945 et 1951-1954] in Brazil have also produced national-popular and developmental ideas, shaping a way of thinking about the role of the state in economic development. It is these traditions which were reactivated during this “turn to the left”, and taken up by Evo Morales in Bolivia, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The lefts of Uruguay, Chile or Brazil were less crossed by this national-popular tradition.

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