The Second Coming of a “Pink Tide”

It’s April 7th, 2018. The former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (or simply “Lula”) has been charged with corruption and is about to turn himself in. Before surrendering, Lula gives a speech to the thousands of supporters outside of the Metalworkers’ Union headquarters he has been hiding out in for the past few hours. In videos of the speech, the tearful audience looks disheartened and defeated. But you won’t see any sign of defeat from Lula, who has supposedly lost everything. Instead he says “I’ll come out of this bigger, stronger, more truthful and innocent”. 

A month prior to Lulas arrest, Mexico sends shockwaves across the Americas. On July 1st, 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to as AMLO, is elected the next President of Mexico. His coalition, Juntos Hacemos Historia (Together We Make History), also wins a majority of seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

And so we have the second coming of the “Pink Tide” 

The “Pink Tide” was a political wave of left-wing governments in Latin America during the 2000s. Beginning with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999, and highlighted by the elections of left-wing icons Lula of Brazil (2003) and Evo Morales of Bolivia (2006), the “Pink Tide” showed a rebuke of the neoliberal economics that had been ushered into many of these young democracies. Outside of the previously mentioned leftist victories in Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia, the initial “Pink Tide” movement included victories in: Argentina (2003), Chile (2000), Ecuador (2007), El Salvador (2009), Guatemala (2008), Honduras (2006), Panama (2004), Paraguay (2008), and Uruguay (2005). All of these governments, at least to some extent, showed a rejection of years of United States intervention in the region, as well as an appetite for left-wing economic policy, with the results of most of these governments being a reduction in income-inequality and unemployment, along with significant economic growth.

But as tides rise, they fall, and by the mid 2010s, “Pink Tide” was over. The movement died a slow and painful death, starting with the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, followed up with the impeachment and removal from office of Lula’s successor Dilma Rouseff in 2016. Combine these key events with a series of right-wing victories across the region, and the movement is already gone before Lula has turned himself in. But it wouldn’t be gone for long.

As previously stated, just a month before Lula was arrested, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his coalition won an astounding victory in Mexico in 2018. AMLO won the race for President with 55% of the vote, with his next closest opponent only receiving 23% of the vote. His Juntos Hacemos Historia coalition (a union of two left-wing parties, MORENA and the Labor Party, and later the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico) took majorities in both chambers of the Mexican legislature, with MORENA, the party that AMLO belongs to, winning by far the most seats in the Senate (55/128) and the Chamber of Deputies (191/500). AMLO won the election on a populist platform, promising universal healthcare, free public college, free internet, a large range of anti-corruption measures, and increased protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. 

A little under a year after the election of AMLO, the left in Latin America suffered a tragic defeat. After winning the election on October 20th, 2019, Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, resigned from his office on November 10th, after losing support from the police and the military. This was due to ongoing protests following the election in regards to the legitimacy of the results, which was fueled by a report from the Organization of American States (OAS) that claimed fraud had occurred in the Bolivian election. While we now know that the OAS report was false, and the election results showing a Morales victory were non-fraudulent, the resignation of Morales led to a short-lived right-wing takeover in Bolivia by Jeanine Áñez until a new election could take place. The election would take place on October 18th, 2020. Filling in for Evo Morales, who was in exile in Argentina, was Luis Arce, the former Minister of Finance under Morales, who had been the architect of Bolivia’s economic boom during the 2010s. Arce would run on a platform of economic populism and indigenous rights. He would win the Presidency with 55% of the vote, with his next closest opponent only getting 29%, and his Movement for Socialism party would win majorities in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In Chile, Socialist Gabriel Boric, only 35 years old at the time, threw his hat into the ring to become the next President of the nation. And after the first round of voting, Boric would find himself campaigning against a far-right politician in the second round. Boric supported universal healthcare, wage increases, and also big changes in social policy in the country, wanting to move away from the Constitution that had been in place since the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Boric would secure victory against his far-right opponent on December 19th, 2021, winning the race with 56% of the vote.

Perhaps the most meaningful victory of this second “Pink Tide” era occurred only a few months ago. Columbia, Latin America’s oldest democracy, had not once elected a left-wing President since democratizing in 1886. The country, marred by political violence since becoming a republic and a healthy dosage of meddling by the United States, was one of the lone holdouts in South America during the initial “Pink Tide” era. That would all change with the election of Gustavo Petro. Petro ran on a platform quite similar to Boric, focusing on big economic changes mixed with environmentalism and social justice. He would finish as the top vote getter in the first round of voting, holding 40% of the vote, and he would go on to win the Presidency in the second round with 50% of the vote. And so, for the first time ever, Columbia would have a left-wing leader.

This piece began in Brazil, on a negative note. Lula, the champion of workers and indigenous people, had been arrested and thrown in jail. The man who would win the 2018 Brazilian election, Jair Bolsonaro, would go on to prove himself disastrous for the country. Bolsonaro, who could best be described as a fascist, would frequently endorse political violence during his reign. He rolled back protections for LGBTQ+ people, indigenous people, and Afro-Brazilians. He has overseen the removal of about 20% of the Amazon Rainforest. He downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 Pandemic and opposed lockdown measures, leading to one of the worst death tolls from the virus across the entire world. And during the Brazilian electoral cycle this year, he would often threaten that he would not accept the results of the election if he lost.

Lula remained popular, even while in jail. So, it was only natural after the Supreme Court granted his release from prison, with the collapse of Brazil’s democratic institutions at stake, that he would once again run for President. 

Lula made the fight for the soul of Brazil the centerpiece of his campaign. This strategy looked to bring in everyone on the political spectrum that did not support Bolsonaro. And this strategy worked. Despite vote suppression efforts from Bolsonaro supporters, Lula would almost win outright in the first round of voting, gathering 48% of the vote. And, a few weeks later, on October 30th, Lula would beat Bolsonaro head to head, winning with a final tally of 51%-49%. After the election, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters took to the streets, claiming that the election was stolen. Bolsonaro, after leaving Brazil for Florida, would echo these claims, and on January 8th, 2023, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters would participate in an attempted coup that very closely resembled January 6th. Thankfully, the government was able to quickly restore order in Brasilia, and Lula declared that all those involved would be held accountable. There is a growing push from both Brazilian and American lawmakers for the United States to extradite Bolsonaro back to Brazil so that he can be held accountable as well.

The second “Pink Tide”, which is still happening, will be remembered as an era that brought significant economic and social change to many nations, along with the resounding defeats of far-right politicians. Already, so many of these young governments have accomplished so much. The second “Pink Tide” shows that the left should focus on economic issues in order to win elections.