The catastrophe of 21st-century socialism in Latin America could have been worse — except for Venezuela, who was completely destroyed by it.
Since 1990, the insane political project has taken over almost the entire continent. It was a “new era,” as Brad Pitt put it when he visited Ecuador.
Former President of Brazil Lula da Silva organized the Sao Paulo Forum that year to seek a new revolutionary pathway in the region — a plan that was turned out to be politically successful without a doubt. The left — formerly characterized by insurrections, declarations, and violent acts — transformed into a wolf in sheep’s clothing and began preaching about democracy.
They coupled their newly-found democratic rhetoric with electoral campaigns to achieve what they never could with old violent methods.
Their strategic shift turned out to be successful. Catalan, French, and Austrian theorists came to aid with an empty and dangerous “neo-Republican” rethoric that was fashionable at the time.
They spoke of “true” and “direct” democracy, a “citizen revolution” to found a “new republic” that is against traditional politics and the corrupt elites — sophistry that fascinated the dim-witted democrats.
This is how Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, Lula in Brazil in 2002, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina in 2003, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay in 2004, Evo Morales in Bolivia in 2005, Michelle Bachelet in 2013, Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2007, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua on and off throughout the years.
We Got Out Rather Cheaply
Cristina Kirchner assumed power in Argentina in 2007 following the death of her husband and governed until 2015. In 2008, Fernando Lugo with the Patriotic Alliance triumphed in Paraguay but was ousted in 2012.
In 2009, José Mujica succeeded Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, and Mauricio Funes won with the democratic socialist party of El Salvador (FMLN – Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front).
Dilma Rousseff replaced Lula in Brazil in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. Keeping it all in the family, Ollanta Humala won in Peru in 2011.
Nicolás Maduro assumed control of Venezuela in an unorthodox manner in 2013 after Hugo Chavez’s death. Once again Bachelet was elected in 2014 and the FMLN in El Salvador kept power with Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
In 2015, Tabaré Vázquez returned to power in Uruguay.
Along the way, fortunately for this ill-fated continent, many of them like Vázquez, Mujica, Bachelet, Funes, and Humala abandoned their revolutionary, populist or raging positions and dedicated themselves to governing civilly.
Others pulled out their authoritarian fangs, breaking the law to keep themselves in office — such as Ortega in Nicaragua and Morales in Bolivia — all the while preserving a dynamic economy.
The Kirchners, meanwhile, are more of a mafia than a political party, with unbridled corruption and authoritarianism at the heart of everything they do. The family decided not to pay the country’s foreign debt, instead faking an economic boom and swindling thousands of bondholders.
Argentina has been unable to free itself from the ghost of Juan Domingo Perón, the immensely popular strongman who managed to destroy a flourishing nation in only nine years. Six decades later, this phantom continues to keep Argentina from holding its head up high.
In Brazil, Lula survived okay during the commodities price boom, but ultimately couldn’t keep up his predecessor’s economic reforms in the face of such a large corruption scheme enriching the leaders beneath him. The recently suspended Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party benefited the most from this.
Ecuador’s Correa is perhaps the most pathetic. The press has been forbidden from publishing statistics about the struggling economy, which the president damaged in part with his “electronic money” idea to undermine the official currency, the US dollar. He destroyed the middle class, and yet claims there has been a “decade of gain” in the country.
As for Venezuela, we can only pray that future generations get the message and do not have to go through again the shortages, inflation, and death.
Latin American countries must face the challenge of making changes from the ground up if they don’t want populism to make a comeback in the future. The transitions in Brazil and Argentina are being put to the test; their leaders will need to transform the country without losing support.
This Latin American adventure of little despots, corruption, failure, and ideological intoxication has touched almost everyone in some way. There is a lesson somewhere in here for the whole continent. Perhaps it’s this: revolutionaries are hopeless, even if they dress in silk.