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With the Rise of Neoliberalism, Is It the End of an Era for the Latin American Left?

Dawisson Belem Lopes - Al Jazeera
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July 16, 2017

The End of an Era for the Latin American Left?: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Latin America witnessed a surge of left-wing leaders that rose to power. In recent years, some of these leaders have lost power, and others are struggling. (Al Jazeera English)

Even though it is a taboo word to many, neoliberalism is not good or bad in itself. Rather, it is a means to an end. The state is purposefully reduced in its scope of action to a minimum - by way of policies associated with fiscal austerity, financial deregulation, free trade and the privatization of public assets, among others - so nothing can prevent the market and its profit-oriented agents from reaching a fair point of equilibrium between demand and supply. According to those who advocate such perspective, the state is nothing but a "necessary evil".

In Latin America neoliberalism has been tried and has not worked. In fact, it has produced disastrous results. But instead of learning from past mistakes and seeking a different political direction, political elites in Latin America have started pursuing again those same neoliberal policies that failed so miserably in the past.

The largest and most influential countries in the region - Brazil, Mexico, Argentina - have embraced it again with passion.

We still remember the way neoliberalism has harmed Latin American peoples. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brazil (under Fernando Collor de Mello), Argentina (under Carlos Menem), Mexico (under Carlos Salinas), Venezuela (under Carlos Perez), and Peru (under Alberto Fujimori) were all being governed by right-wing presidents who adopted the so-called "Washington Consensus" - a neoliberal formula coined by the World Bank and seen by enthusiasts as a ticket to glory - as if it were the wave of the future. Back then, this reasoning was making some sense, since the US (under Ronald Reagan) and Europe (especially the UK under Margaret Thatcher) had tried it and reaped some positive results for a while.

However, the results of "Washington Consensus" policies in Latin America were tragic: GDP stalled, social policies shrank, income concentration and poverty rose, unemployment and labour precariousness surged, violence skyrocketed. In some of these countries, not even inflation was tamed.

As a consequence, Collor was impeached in Brazil, whereas Menem lost his grip in Argentina. Fujimori fled his country to Japan and Perez was removed from office after bloodshed in the streets of Caracas (the Caracazo). Salinas faced a turbulent end of mandate and exiled himself to the US. There is little room for controversy: The neoliberal experience of the 1990s was simply disastrous for Latin Americans.

Curiously enough, some 25 years later neoliberalism has made a comeback to the region. Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru have proud neoliberals serving as presidents these days.

And this is just when the whole world - Donald Trump in the US, Theresa May in the UK, Narendra Modi in India, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey to name but a few - is clearly going protectionist.

Dawisson Belem Lopes is a professor of international and comparative politics at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera

Related: Over 7 Million Venezuelans Vote Against Maduro’s Constituent Assembly at 'Popular Referendum' (Sputnik News)

Related: Latin America's Mega-Corruption Scandal Just Claimed Two Former Presidents (Washington Post)

Related: Of the 25 Most Murderous Cities in the World, a Staggering 23 Are in Latin America (Times of Oman)

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