Is this the end of the Latin American 21st century socialisms?

Public support for the Latin American governments of so-called “21st century Socialism” in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador is waning, and their broadly popular presidents are losing the remarkable acceptance they have enjoyed in previous years. Español

Jorge León T.
2 July 2015
Hugo Chávez

Wikimedia Commons

Venezuela is living through its own internal misfortunes as a result of ideological excesses, ignorance of economics, factional power struggles and a long-term obsession the idea that everything can be solved with oil wealth as if it were manna from heaven. For Venezuela, the future is unpredictable.

In Bolivia and Ecuador, despite the fact that local and regional elections are certainly not equivalent to national ones, where Evo Morales’s and Rafael Correa’s popularity weighs heavily, recent results indicate that the governing party’s clout is diminishing while the opposition is rebuilding (sub-national elections were held in Ecuador in February 2014 and in Bolivia in March 2015). In both countries, as in Venezuela, regional and local governments provide a counterweight to the overhwelming power of central governments and their parties notwithstanding the latter's legitimacy stemming from control of massive public spending (sustained by exceptional raw material prices) which has allowed them to win favor and popularity through patronage and propaganda.

It is frequently said that the fall in popularity is to be expected after so many years in office; and this may be partly true. However, both in Bolivia and Ecuador other revealing aspects of the system these governments have created and of the dynamics of political organization are clearly apparent. Many of the regional/local election winners are ruling party dissidents.  A struggle among the elites is taking place, and the opposition is reshaping - all of which result in a waning of the ruling party’s monopolizing capacity, which is precisely what local politicians and voters are reacting against.

Many losers on the governmental side are accused of corruption and inefficiency. They are, therefore, an integral part of the growing evil of corruption that ends up spreading from head to toe in the body of governments that concentrate power, possess plentiful resources and act without restraint. Generally speaking, corruption ends up destroying their reputation and in long-term rejection by voters. Inefficiency is inherent in the appointment of people loyal to the president or the party who are not chosen on th ebasis of ability. The absence of qualified political personnel is not unusual when governments focus on gaining and keeping power while at the same time generating the very dynamics that will discredit them.

Correa and Morales have tried to put pressure on voters with promises of gross patronage or the threat of withholding resources. But their discourse of “paradise with us or hell with the opposition” has prompted a backlash among better educated citizens.

Discontent is currently also surfacing via street protests, and so we are witnessing a comeback of a more pluralist dynamic in these weak democracies, where both societal and party opposition have been so far under-represented in the institutions. Opposition forces are better than the government at renewing themselves through fresh groupings, both at the national and local level. The surge of this new pluralism is setting a limit to the authoritarian temptations of those who believe that their idea of government allows them to get away with almost anything.

Changes in the economic situation may entail unpopular measures which could alter the popularity of the presidents and snowball from the local/regional to the national level, given that the opposition forces are now firmly established both in fact and in the minds of voters. A political cycle appears to be coming to a end, though its speed of decline is still unclear. This has been primarily a cycle during which a non-systemic Left has, at least until quite recently, left the productive apparatus unchanged while prioritising the distribution of the plentiful resources available. If this Santa Claus Socialism fails now to renew itself, the current context could rapidly delegitimize it.



This article was first published by La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

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