A string of election victories by left-leaning leaders and governments have hit Latin America. Analysts and observers of Latin American affairs say the shift is evolving, but not radical. With the return to power of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, past president of Brazil, defeating ultra-right President Jair Bolsonaro, observers say it seals a surge of politically left wins in the last several years around the region.
Winning the Oct. 30 runoff election, Mr. Lula will lead Latin America’s most populous country for the third time. He first led for two terms from 2003 to 2010. In the extremely contentious race, that represented a deeply divided Brazil, Mr. Lula received 50.83 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Mr. Bolsonaro, who garnered 49.1 percent.
“I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me,” Mr. Lula said of the victory. “There are not two Brazils, we are one country, one people, one great nation.”
The 77-year-old president-elect and former union leader stated the victory is not his, nor his Workers’ Party, nor other parties that supported his campaign. “It is a victory of an immense democratic movement … for democracy to win,” he told supporters.
“It’s really a question this time around: What is the state of the struggle of the masses of people? And how does that shift the balance of power in favor of things happening,” said Eugene Puryear, activist, and an investigative journalist.
Mr. Lula’s voting base is the poor working class, majority Black indigenous people, and the downtrodden of the favelas in the nation where 56 percent of the people identify as Black and Brown.
“The real reason he can win is because he has this very strong base amongst the poorest people, the darkest people, the youngest people and women, and the cross sections of all those different populations,” explained Mr. Puryear, who spent 12 days in Brazil during the first round of elections.
Mr. Bolsonaro kept the public on edge when he delayed addressing the election outcome. In months prior he characterized the electoral process as corrupted, fostering mistrust among supporters. In a less than three-minute speech on Nov. 1, he defiantly did not verbalize defeat but authorized the constitutional transfer of power, slated for Jan. 1, 2023.
The “Brazilian phoenix,” as Mr. Lula is called, rose from the margins of political ashes in an extraordinary comeback. He was sidelined in 2018 with a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges that some argue were politically driven. Mr. Lula spent a year and one-half incarcerated before a judge overturned the sentence in late 2019.
Mr. Lula joins a chain of leftist leaders who were swept into power in recent years across Latin America from Mexico and Colombia to Chile and Peru. It is reminiscent of a similar “Pink Tide” of political change, two decades ago that first brought Mr. Lula to the world stage.
Mr. Lula said he intends to lead Brazil back to state-driven economic growth and social policies that lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty during his earlier terms in office. He vowed to make Brazil a leader in global climate talks, fight the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, decimated under his predecessor that harmed the Earth, and Brazil’s indigenous populations within the Amazon. Pro-peace and justice advocates, said Mr. Lula, represent hope.
“It’s a great victory for the people of Brazil and for the region,” Madea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, told The Final Call. “It will be one more enormous push for the United States to change its policy towards Latin America,” she said. Ms. Benjamin predicts with Mr. Lula back in the mix, the Organization of American States, the regional institution that is supposed to represent all of Latin America, but is unevenly controlled by Washington, will weaken, and stronger connections between Latin American countries will emerge.
With shifting alliances driven by a changing unipolar world run by the U.S. to a multipolar world, “there’ll be more independent policies when it comes to the U.S. trying to push Latin America to take sides between the U.S. and China,” said Ms. Benjamin.
Others said there is a “new day” in Latin America, with the right-left shift. For the U.S. the change comes amid the loss of friendship and dwindling influence in the region it ill-regarded as its “backyard” rather than her sovereign neighbors.
“It is absolutely a new day, a new mind, and it’s the beginning of a unity unlike any that’s ever been seen in the Western Hemisphere,” said Student Minister Abel Muhammad, representative to the Latin American community for the Nation of Islam.
“You have the president of Mexico extending greetings and the support of the Mexican people for Brazil, for Cuba, for one another,” he said.
In a historic meeting in Venezuela on Nov. 1, Columbia’s new left-leaning president, Gustavo Petro, closed ranks with Nicholas Maduro, ending years of U.S.-instigated tension between the two bordering nations. The show of solidarity in the region is occurring despite the U.S. usual policy of interference. Latin American leaders are no longer intimidated by U.S. pressure and are independently choosing their allies. It’s breaking a centuries-old Modus Operandi of divide and conquer.
“There’s an awakening,” said Mr. Muhammad. The rise is not individually, but collectively in the region, which is what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam has been advocating for Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Mr. Muhammad pointed out. “As people of faith, we look for God’s hand in all of this,” he said. Only the presence of God could cause these divided and subjugated nations to begin moving toward unity, not fearing oppressors, tyrants, and warmongers.
While Latin America is repositioning, analysts also noted that in some cases like Columbia and Brazil, where the election margin was only a hairs length apart, the uphill road for change is still formidable.
“It’s a situation now in both Colombia and Brazil, where you had the election, but that’s not the end of the story,” said Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace.
He said overall, it has been a positive development. “But it’s still a very precarious situation politically in the region,” Mr. Baraka explained.
The earlier rise of leftist governments in the early 2000s faced a different challenge than the current wave. Back then the redistribution of resources and wealth was the demand and the need. Two decades ago, people experienced the consequences of decades-long free-market capitalism that inherently bred exploitation, inequality, and foreign domination of wealth that undermined their economic and political needs.
Two decades later, the conditions are even worse, said Mr. Baraka. While people were still considering reforms and some policies of redistribution, today, people are looking for more radical structural changes. “The politics are going to be even more left,” he said.
“The governments that are coming into power and the governments that were able to maintain themselves, even in the midst of massive U.S. repression, and subversion, their politics are a little bit more radical, because the conditions are more radical,” said Mr. Baraka.
The longtime human rights activist and anti-imperialist advocate said Colombia and Brazil reflect those changed conditions.
The new government in Columbia represents a coalition of leftist progressive forces, but not a far-left movement where its politics will be deeply radical, like in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. But they are progressive and moving left.
In Brazil, with the return of Mr. Lula and the Workers Party, the deteriorated conditions are such that Brazilians are demanding more than just redistribution, which was part of their past success.
“That’s not going to be enough,” said Mr. Baraka, and added, “They will have to have more structural kinds of changes,” which was reflected in the close election results.
Mr. Lula’s Workers Party is the minority in the legislature which will limit what he can do from a legislative standpoint. Mr. Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party dominates both chambers of Congress and controls major governorships across Brazil.
Mr. Baraka expects the right wing will become more intransigent to obstruct any real changes because the terms are much higher now. “What’s in play now will be the nature of the government and the kind of policies that will emerge,” he said.
—Brian E. Muhammad, Staff Writer