There was a time not very long ago when Latin American countries were satisfied with holding elections to insure international approval and some internal stability.
Pablo Sapag M.
And that’s the way it was because before that and for decades, power was not granted by the polls, but by coup d’etats or armed and usually popular uprisings. Today it is no longer the case, because the region has gained importance and what happens there is no longer seen with so much indifference and patronising condescension.
Internationally, it is already assumed that what happens in Latin America can have not only economic global repercussions but ideological and cultural ones too.
It is enough to see how today the old traditional Latin American populism is cited as a decisive influence in the birth and consolidation of political parties and movements in Europe and further afield.
As far as Latin America itself is concerned, it is no longer enough to vote because, among other things and with or without reason, citizens believe themselves to be safe from the assaults and armed riots of the past, the same ones that instated and removed presidents.
Nowadays elections are taken for granted, but not so their results or what medium-term trend they may represent. Regarding the first, there is no longer a race to run. The winner may be the least expected, although that does not guarantee their staying in power. There are always systemic non-electoral mechanisms capable of effecting mid-term changes.
In that sense, the list is long. From Honduras to Peru, passing through Brazil, of course. There, Dilma Rousseff was dismissed before fulfilling her term of office. Michel Temer holds the presidency until the end of this year, which will see him hand over the presidential sash to Jair Bolsonaro, another ex-soldier who comes into the presidency of a Latin American country by an electoral route. All this is a sign.
The overwhelming triumph of Bolsonaro in the polls comes from a tough discourse on delinquency that is very pleasing to societies tired of so much crime; an ultra neo-liberalism in the Chilean-style that has not wanted to conceal itself and an alliance with conservative evangelical moral values and compassion in social values that is far from being exclusive of the Brazilian case. All this is wrapped in a symbolic nationalism that in terms of identity is essential for many Latin Americans, even more so in a Brazil where the nationalist ideal of the greatest in the world is not pure rhetoric.
Brazil has long since consolidated its position as the only South American power acquired after the 1982 Malvinas disaster in Argentina, that of Latin American, Pan-American and even global power.
In the former leading Latin American country in the region and with a somewhat more socialist but obviously equally nationalist discourse – “so far from God and so close to the United States”, don’t forget – Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) also won the elections in Mexico thanks to the evangelicals’ vote.
The millionaire Sebastián Piñera in Chile, the uribista (extreme right-wing party) Iván Duque in Colombia and Mario Abdo in Paraguay, who has two ministers of that persuasion in his cabinet, also count on evangelical support.
That is where the hand extends from in a Latin America in which a European party system was never consolidated, a model incapable of structuring societies as racially and culturally mixed in the region as brutal and genetically inequal in the economic sphere.
The cement there has never been the ideologies of importation, but the leaders in the good or bad sense of the word and the social movements that, from the religious to the secular, passing through the racially ethnic and nationalism, have been allied circumstantially with them. The recent cases of Venezuela, Ecuador or Bolivia are examples of this.
Beyond certain intellectual circles, the European right-left axis does not much explain the behaviour of the Latin American electorate. This has been understood by Bolsonaro, AMLO and all the others, although it is the Brazilian and the Mexican who really can set a future trend for the rest of the region.
In that sense, Bolsonaro has the advantage. Firstly, because he, among others, has the open sympathy of the Argentinian President Macri, Duque, Abdo and Piñera, since they, like Bolsonaro, also deny the inclusion of any ethnic-racial nuance to their political proposals.
Secondly, because although the violence in Brazil is very worrying, it does not reach the same heights as the violence that could consume all of AMLO’s efforts in a Mexico that even when it was the Latin American regional power could not manage to export its greatest asset: the construction of the mestizo nation as an aspiration of inclusion and equality.
Finally, due to its size, resources and geopolitics above all, Brazil is much more protected than Mexico against what they call their “accursed surroundings”, that is, the pernicious influence of a United States that, paradoxically, increasingly resembles real Latin America: without parties, with nationalist, evangelical leaders and with elections. Yes, many elections.
(Translated by Hannah Phelvin – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)