The (Further) Fracturing of the Latin American Left

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The Organization of American States (OAS) voted on June 15th on a resolution to condemn the recent rise in the arrests and harassment of opposition candidates in Nicaragua by the government. The supranational body’s permanent council met and passed, by a vote of 27-3, the resolution, unequivocally condemning the detention of opposition candidates by the regime of President Daniel Ortega.

The supermajority of states in favor – including the United States, Canada, Brazil, the members of the Andean Community, and the Juan Guaidó government of Venezuela – criticized the illiberal actions of the Ortega regime as harmful to the electoral process ahead of an upcoming local election, while only three states (Nicaragua, Bolivia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) voted against. However, among the five abstentions, two major regional powers stick out: namely, Argentina and Mexico, who released a joint statement expressing concern at the arbitrary arrests but stopped short of voting for the resolution due to what they perceived as outside interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs.

With this statement and the accompanying abstentions on this vote, the governments of Argentine President Alberto Fernández and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) do their countries a disservice in terms of staying consistent in national values, allowing concerns over sovereignty to override the defense of human rights and electoral integrity in the small Central American country. However, they also demonstrate another example of a growing trend seen in the past decade in Latin America, a schism that has opened between two branches of the region’s left-leaning governments.

The first is the more traditional social democratic government, epitomized in its heyday by leaders such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, José Mujica, and Néstor Kirchner. The more centrist branch of the so-called ‘pink tide’ of the 2000s, these leaders – from which both AMLO and Fernández very much draw inspiration – contrasted greatly with not just conservative governments, but also more hardline leftist peers such as Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Correa, or post-2015 Evo Morales, who tended to feature more authoritarian tendencies in their efforts to remake their countries’ economies.

This division is stark, though not particularly new; rather, it has been growing since the turn away from the neoliberal model first seen in the early 2000s and has grown more and pronounced over time with the region’s economic troubles and emerging crises. One needs only note the emergence of regional partnership among ideologically-aligned leftist governments, such as the Venezuela-dominant ALBA or the once-expansive Union of South American Nations, to observe the consolidation of one of these branches of leftist governments, even as the other struggles to find a unified voice. And if this vote from the OAS permanent council is any indication, the left-leaning leaders of the region are split on whether to embrace the more authoritarian strand of their alignment or not.

Less than a week after abstaining from the OAS vote, the governments of both Argentina and Mexico recalled their ambassadors to Nicaragua for so-called ‘consultations,’ following the detainment by Nicaraguan police of journalist Miguel Mora. Mora’s arrest makes him the fifth person to be arrested in this manner, and the diplomatic responses by both the Fernández and AMLO governments demonstrate to which extent their stance on the Ortega regime is shaky at this moment.

While it remains to be seen whether recent elections in Peru and Mexico will spell the emergence of a new illiberal leader in one major country and the complete reformation of the other’s economy, the turn of the decade has demonstrated how Latin America’s leftists – unlike their conservative peers – are finding themselves at a very public crossroads. Progressive leaders in the region should not sacrifice their human rights records at the altar of ideological solidarity, particularly as the electoral situations in countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela grow more dire; after all, the citizens of these countries need all of the support they can receive.


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