The death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has without a doubt left a void in the politics of South America. Chavez was by far, for better or worse, the most viable figure of South America’s “Pink Tide”, the massive resurgence of left-wing/center-left ideology in South American politics. This represented for the first time in decades a true break from US involvement and hegemony in Latin America, which as we all know supported and even installed vulgar right-wing dictators from the military apparatus. Names and dates such as Nicaragua 1954 and Chile ’73 have become synonymous with US manipulation of democratically elected governments. As well as the fact that the Pink Tide starting at the beginning of the 21st century was a reaction against the Washington Consensus of the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War perhaps the height of South American docility against US hegemonic influence. The Washington Consensus was a major push for the neo-liberalization and total privatization of all state enterprises. Which was adopted by leaders such as Rafael Caldera of Venezuela, who cow-towed to the will of the IMF only to have Venezuela’s entire national resources owned by foreign corporations, a huge spike in poverty, a widening of the wealth gap, and a major economic collapse in the nation, which Hugo Chavez led a platform of overturning by nationalizing and taking control of those resources. And let us not forget what happened to another follower of the Washington Consensus; Argentina. Regarded by advocates of neo-liberalism as “the poster boy of the Latin American economic revolution”, came crashing down in 2002.
The Pink Tide that came in the aftermath of all this destruction of state and economical institutions promised a clean break of business as usual with Washington, which the Latin American nations would by far receive the short end of the stick on. Chavez emerged as a major ideological figure of anti-imperalism and South American self-determination, citing Simon Bolivar, leader of South American independence from the Spanish empire, as a major inspiration. And the Pink Tide, in some form or another, spread from Venezuela to Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. I would make the statement that there are two different forms of the Pink Tide. One mirrors very similarly to the center-left social democratic parties of Europe, welcoming capitalism but having the desire to institute some policies of welfare to make capitalism in the country more tolerable to the average poor and working class people. This form can be seen in Brazil with it’s former president Lula da Silva and it’s contemporary one being Dilma Rousseff, as well as Uruguay with Jose Mujica, now famously known as “the world poorest president” because of the vast amount of his paycheck he gives to charity. And then there is the other form of the Pink Tide, which is a much more left-wing ideological based movement, coming from countries which have been dealt a great deal of pain in the past because of neo-liberal policies. This type of Pink Tide, while still keeping a market based economy it sees it’s goal as to make dramatic changes in altering capitalism. These changes can be for example implementing measures of participatory democracy within the country and nationalization of industries. And usually these countries are led by charismatic leaders, Hugo Chavez being the most obvious form of this Pink Tide, but it is also in Bolivia with Evo Morrales and Ecuador with Rafael Correa. There is a tendency among center-left/left to view this type of Pink Tide with suspicion and skepticism, fear that because of the more heavy handed attitude of this form of Pink Tide it may be associated with the authoritarian history of leftist (in this case Marxist-Leninist) governments. While potential destabilizing, it seems unlikely these governments have any attempt in staging a dictatorial coup over their country, unlike the right-wing, US backed governments decades ago. Instead this type of more ideologically left-wing Pink Tide wishes to push major reform as hard as it can to improve the condition of their country without sending to turmoil.
Now in this time of uncertainty with the death of president Hugo Chavez, those in South America who do not want to see it return into becoming just an asset of the United States government must try to unite together in solidarity, and build political and economical ties with one another. Building upon the “Union of South American Nations” and discussing the possibility of a single South American currency can do great benefits. In the end, besides just the major gains the left has made in South America, this is not just a question of what is “the left’s” place in South America, but more importantly this is a question of South American self-determination, the independence of an entire continent. For all those countries in South America, forced under brutal right-wing dictators for decades because US hegemony have now found a voice of independence and self-determination. There may be ebbs and flows between democratically elected conservative and socialist leaders, but there is no going back on this progress. Simon Bolivar’s dream of an independent South America has come true. And it has Hugo Chavez to thank for it, among many others as well.
Descanse en paz el presidente Chávez.