After the pink tide



After Mauricio Macri's remarkable election victory in late November, The Economist  declared "the ebbing of the pink tide" in South America. And indeed, the opposition's landslide victory at the parliamentary elections in Venezuela seemed to prove the point,  marking a profound change in regional dynamics and suggesting that left-wing populist governments fueled by high commodity prices are on the retreat. In Peru, where voters will head to the polls in April 2016, victory for one of three prominent centre-right candidates (Garcia, Toledo or Fujimori) could accentuate this trend further (even though current President Humala, while elected as a leftist, has moved to the center and has maintained liberal economic policies). Perhaps more importantly, there is now a real chance that Maduro will face a referendum in 2016, possibly marking the end of nearly two decades of chavismo in Venezuela.

Recent developments in Argentina and Venezuela certainly underline that the economic model embraced by governments in Argentina, Venezuela and several others during the first decade of the 21st century has lost popular support -- or, more precisely, that their governments have lost the capacity to finance their policies. Yet those who think chavismo is dead overlook that 41% of Venezuelans still voted for it despite high inflation, recession and extreme violence. It would also be too early to expect a domino effect and systematic shift towards the right throughout the region. Brazil's left-wing government (which admittedly moved to the center since appointing Finance Minister Joaquim Levy), was reelected last year and is still more likely to remain in power until 2018 than not -- and it is by no means clear who will succeed Dilma Rousseff. In Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador, centre-left governments remain in power (even though governments in Montevideo and Santiago are far more moderate than in Quito). In Chile's case, President Michelle Bachelet, though currently embattled, returned to power in 2014 after four years under centre-right President Sebastián Piñera, and Uruguay's Tabaré Vázquez just won the elections by a 12% margin in 2015.

A group of more ideologically diverse leaders may not necessarily be bad news for regional cooperation in the coming years. Macri's tougher stance vis-à-vis Mercosur's democracy clause may have contributed to Maduro's rapid acceptance of the election results in Venezuela. Neither can the pink tide be said to have systematically reduced frictions in the region: Despite sharing broad ideological convictions, Brazil's President Lula and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner clashed frequently (though often behind the scenes), and the latter took the global lead in undermining Brazil's campaign to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2005. Kirchner also did everything possible to undermine Brazilian regional initiatives, most notably the creation of UNASUR, and Brazil and Argentina failed to revive Mercosur. 

Rather, the economic difficulties affecting the entire region (the new normal of low commodity prices, a slowing Chinese economy and a normalization of US monetary policy) may provide a welcome impulse to be more proactive in the realm of regional cooperation, ranging from a more pro-active Mercosur and greater convergence between the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur to a more pragmatic discussion about how to enhance regional ties in more general terms, including on issues like China's growing influence in South America.

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PHOTO CREDIT : Lapatilla