Complicating the "Leftward Turn" of Latin America: Lugo is no Chavez, Correa, or Morales

Tekojoja headquarters the day after the election win.

While news of Fernando Lugo's victory was much celebrated in the Spanish-speaking world as a triumph for democracy, rule of law, and respect for the will of the people, as well as for ending the 61 year hegemony of a single political party, it has been greeted with a little more anxiety and even apprehension in the English-language press as worries are raised about the "pink tide" sweeping the continent. Though in the United States the left-of-center politicians leading most of South America's nations may appear cut from the same cloth (and, depending on your viewpoint, that could be terrifying or attractive), on-the-ground here in Latin America, that perspective proves false. The pink tide needs much nuancing.

First, Lugo's coalition, the Alianza Patriotica comprises groups ranging from peasant and indigenous groups to workers groups and those who would consider themselves from the traditional left as well as groups on the right. Namely, the Partido Liberal. (In the U.S. the word "liberal" means "left," but in the rest of the world "liberal" means "advocates the market as the best distributor of goods"-- that is to say, "liberal" means "free trade"-- a position associated with the right.) The new vice-president, Frederico Franco, is from the Partido Liberal and is an advocate of neoliberalism... the foe for much of Latin America's left. This means that the new government will have to negotiate between some disparate positions. It is hard to imagine, say, Hugo Chavez having members of the right at the highest positions of influence in his government.

Frederico Franco is guy with the glasses and the mustache on the lower righthand side. This photo was taken on the night of April 20 as he arrived to the Panteon Nacional to celebrate the electoral victory. Notice the blue flags, the official color of the Partido Liberal.

It follows from this that Sunday's election was as much an indictment against the current regime and the Colorado party's unmitigated rule of more than half a century as much as it was for Lugo. For more than 60 years, in order to be a school teacher, a soldier in the military, a police officer, a judge, a clerk in the government, any part of government work, you had to be a registered member of the Colorado party. One Paraguayan with whom I spoke referred to this as political apartheid. Thousands of government workers, who had benefited from a system of party patronage, feared for their jobs should the opposition win and then kick them out. Lugo and Franco have taken repeated measures to assure those workers that, rather than vindictively firing them, the Colorado party also has a key role to play in the new administration.

Moreover, taking a step back from the Paraguayan context, it is important to realize that there are vast differences between the likes of Castro and Chavez, on the one hand, and Lula and Bachelet, on the other. The fact that they are lumped together in the U.S. press is disturbingly myopic. Brazil and Chile have two of the most robust economies in the western hemisphere and the "left"ish administrations in power have not scared away foreign investment whatsoever. As for Cuba, as I've said below, the slow but accelerating movement away from the economic policies of the past 60 years is notable as well.

This is a video (not made by me) of the "18 de Octubre" polca, the theme song of the Partido Liberal. During Stroessner's dictatorship, it was illegal to play and therefore became a hallmark of resistance.

Posted in . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

One Response to Complicating the "Leftward Turn" of Latin America: Lugo is no Chavez, Correa, or Morales

Matthew Peed said...

It's a shame that international politics must be inevitably simplified into right and left and good and evil, and more so that these categories themselves get distorted along the historic battle-lines of domestic constituencies. It's great that you're there getting a first hand perspective. Wish I could be there.


Swedish Greys - a WordPress theme from Nordic Themepark. Converted by