Lula Watch: Focusing on the Latin American Left – Vol.5 – No.1

Latinobarómetro, an annual public opinion survey covering Latin America, has just published findings showing that every one of the newly-elected leftist candidates in the region has needed “votes from the political center for their election, since the left does not command sufficient votes of its own.” The survey also finds that “paradoxically, the left is much weaker than the right in the region,” with only one country having more than 34% of its voters on the left.

After the recent national elections, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proclaimed that a leftist “wave” was sweeping the region. However, the survey by the Chile-based Latinobarómetro Corporation interviewed citizens from 18 Latin-American countries and found a different and much more nuanced panorama on the real advance of the left, as we will see below.

Latinobarómetro is that “the region as a whole is situated at the political center, with an average rating of 5.4 on a scale of 0 to 10, in which 0 is the extreme left and 10 the extreme right.”
Another finding revealed the existence of a group of countries with half of their voters concentrated on the political right: Colombia, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. Another group of countries have half their voters in the center with the other half divided evenly between right and left: Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador.

Latinobarómetro adds that in all countries “which have elected leftist presidents,” each of the new presidents has needed “votes from the political center because there are not sufficient votes on the left to elect them; paradoxically, [the left] is much weaker than the right” in the region, and, except for Uruguay, “no country has more than 34% of its population on the left.”

Latinobarómetro sees Venezuela as “particularly paradoxical” because a clearly leftist president was elected from an electorate that has 33% of the voters on the right and 40% from the center. Nicaragua also attracted the attention of Latinobarómetro due to the fact that a majority of the population did not vote for leftist Daniel Ortega who was elected president by a plurality. Among that majority, “the largest number [of voters] is not found in the center but on the right.”

Regarding Brazil, other sources confirm Latinobarómetro’s observations about the weakness of the left. Before the presidential elections, incumbent presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva publicly denied he was a “leftist.” In one of his first statements after reelection, he said he had evolved toward the center, adding that gray-haired people who remain on the left must be having “problems” of adaptation.

Latinobarómetro offers an explanation for the Venezuelan and other Latin American paradoxes claiming that “the left appears to have conquered the political center” and has thus found a way to attain power by electoral means.

Nevertheless, Latinobarómetro notes that the very word “left” at this point “has become ambivalent” because today’s left “is not the same as it was in the sixties, with revolutionary protesters seeking the dictatorship of the proletariat.” In this sense, regarding the recent election results, “one cannot say they are a turn to the left without at the same time clarifying that this is not the same left.”

Finally, it is a symptomatic fact that Cuba’s dictator, Fidel Castro, a prototypical representative of the old left, is the least popular leader in the Americas.

According to Latinobarómetro, the comprehensive annual survey, when projected to the region’s entire population, would represent the opinion of 400 million people. To date, no one has disputed any of its findings. Thus, the survey does much to dispel the myth of the “leftist wave” supposedly sweeping Latin America by showing that the reality is indeed a lot more nuanced.

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