Gustavo Petro´s victory in the Colombian presidential election constitutes a landmark in the expansion of progressivism and accession to power of leftists’ parties within Latin America. Throughout the 200 years of Colombia´s independence all the governments that ruled the country were conservative.
Unbearable living conditions are probably at the root of Colombia´s political orientation switch. As revealed by a report recently published by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research “Colombia had many more people living in extreme poverty (5.2 million) in 2020 than Brazil (3.6 million), despite the fact that Brazil has a population more than four times the size of Colombia’s”.
Moreover, the existing political violence, narcotrafficking and the partly frustrated ongoing peace process with the guerrilla must have had an influence in the voter’s sentiment as well.
Colombia’s electoral result is the last of the good news for the progressive parties in Latin America, which in the past few years have won the majority of elections after a fruitless political decade.
In this sense, elections were held with great success for the left in Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Chile and Venezuela during the year 2021. Regarding the Venezuelan regional elections held in 2021, these were monitored by an EU electoral observation mission for the first time since 2006 and resulted in legitimising Nicolas Maduro´s government in the Western countries.
The only exception that proved the rule was the elections which took place in Ecuador in March 2021. The neoliberal candidate Guillermo Lasso assumed power after the run-off election. However, due to the continuous deterioration in the living conditions, Lasso is facing a national strike in Ecuador after a year in power that is causing a high level of uncertainty concerning his immediate political future. In fact, the increase in violence and repression could at any moment derive in a general uprising that could topple Lasso´s government.
Up to this point, it can be inferred from the overview of the political situation in the region that there is a second wave of progressivism. The first one occurred in the first decade of this century and was followed by a reverse wave the following decade that lasted until the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the Mexican President in 2018.
However, some characteristics of the new progressive wave differ to a certain extent from the first one. Whereas all the progressive governments have as their main concern the social problems and the well-being of the lower social classes, who have been impoverished and marginalized by the liberal policies historically applied in Latin America, the political narrative and ideological orientation are divergent when comparing both waves.
The new wave of progressivism aims to change the society but not the system, as the intention to impart justice and redistribute wealth is carried out within the rules of capitalism. Thus, the aspiration to transform Latin America under the model of the "Socialism of the 21st Century" has been lately forgotten.
Without mincing my words, it seems socialism as a feasible society in the narrative of the progressive leaders died with Hugo Chavez and is no longer a benchmark for the current wave of governments. All in all, only time will tell which of the two waves obtain greater results regarding the implementation of people’s rights.