This year, leftist politicians are the favorites to win presidential elections in Colombia and Brazil, taking over from right-wing incumbents, which would put the left and center-left in power in the six largest economies in the region, stretching from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.
Economic suffering, widening inequality, fervent anti-incumbent sentiment and mismanagement of COVID-19 have all fueled a pendulum swing away from the center-right and right-wing leaders who were dominant a few years ago.
The left has promised more equitable distribution of wealth, better public services and vastly expanded social safety nets. But the region’s new leaders face serious economic constraints and legislative opposition that could restrict their ambitions — and restive voters who have been willing to punish whoever fails to deliver.
The left’s gains could buoy China and undermine the United States as they compete for regional influence, analysts say, with a new crop of Latin American leaders who are desperate for economic development and more open to Beijing’s global strategy of offering loans and infrastructure investment. The change could also make it harder for the United States to continue isolating authoritarian leftist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
With rising inflation and stagnant economies, Latin America’s new leaders will find it hard to deliver real change on profound problems, said Pedro Mendes Loureiro, a professor of Latin American studies at the University of Cambridge. To some extent, he said, voters are “electing the left simply because it is the opposition at the moment.”
Unlike the early 2000s, when leftists won critical presidencies in Latin America, the new officeholders are saddled by debt, lean budgets, scant access to credit and, in many cases, vociferous opposition.
“This is really about lower-middle-class and working-class sectors saying, ‘Thirty years into democracy, and we still have to ride a decrepit bus for two hours to get to a bad health clinic,’”Hershberg said.
Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.
Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.
Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.
The country that a decade ago was the largest producer in Latin America, earning about $90 billion a year from oil exports, is expected to net about $2.3 billion by this year’s end — less than the aggregate amount that Venezuelan migrants who fled the country’s economic devastation will send back home to support their families, according to Pilar Navarro, a Caracas, Venezuela-based economist.
The decline has diminished beyond recognition a country that just a decade ago rivaled the United States for regional influence. It is also unraveling a national culture defined by oil, a source of cash that once seemed endless; it financed monumental public works and pervasive graft, generous scholarships and flashy shopping trips to Miami.
Crippling gasoline shortages have led to an outbreak of dozens of daily protests across most Venezuelan states in recent weeks.
More than 5 million Venezuelans, or 1 in 6 residents, have fled the country since 2015, creating one of the world’s greatest refugee crises, according to the United Nations. The country now has the highest poverty rate in Latin America, overtaking Haiti this year, according to a recent study by Venezuela’s three leading universities.