After the Pink Tide

The special section in the Winter 2019 edition of Dissent magazine is derived substantially from the work we did at the conference held last October on the Future of the Left in the Americas. I’ve written the introduction; other essays will be released in the next days and weeks.

On November 1, 2018, Trump’s bellicose National Security Advisor John Bolton gave a speech in Miami where he identified Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua as a “Troika of Tyranny” and the “genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.” At the same time, he singled out Iván Duque of Colombia and Brazil’s president-elect, the neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro, as “like-minded leaders.” Bolsonaro, elected with 55 percent of the vote on October 28, has promised to rid the country of “reds” and has argued that the problem with Brazil’s military dictatorship was that it only tortured, rather than killed, its political opponents. An anonymous official in Duque’s government told a Brazilian newspaper that if Bolsonaro or Trump were to invade Venezuela, then Colombia would back them up, raising the possibility of a “nationalist international.”

Though Colombia’s government later officially denied the statement, and though such an invasion may never come to pass, the discussion does offer evidence of the radically changed political environment in the Americas. Just a few years ago, the “Pink Tide” seemed firmly entrenched. Governments of the left oversaw robust growth and reductions in inequality. In the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first century, it seemed like a new equilibrium had been reached in which democratic majorities and social movements finally had some control over economic distribution and political power. Now, little of that remains. The need for solidarity on the left to confront this powerful extreme right is clear. So too is the need for fresh thinking to understand what occurred during the Pink Tide, and to begin shaping an agenda to more effectively advance equality, uplift the poor and vulnerable, and provide an alternative to environmentally destructive capitalism.

The instinct for much of the left will be retrenchment against the threats of twenty-first-century fascism, and that is, of course, the immediate priority. But it must also confront the fact that the Pink Tide is no longer the global inspiration it once was. The far right, as Pablo Stefanoni has argued, now finds audiences receptive to anti-progressivism. The specter Venezuela haunts continental politics, displacing Cuba as the country that the right conjures as warning. Yet as Stefanoni points out, the right hates the left both for what its governments did poorly and for what they did well. The task of the left is to retain the latter, remake the former, and to articulate an agenda that can succeed in meeting human needs in the years to come.

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