In a political environment of unrest and protests from progressive sectors against neoliberal policies in Chile and Ecuador, great expectations have been focused on two Latin American countries that had presidential elections on October 27: Uruguay and Argentina. We are seeing a tendency towards a rebirth of the Pink Tide in the region.
With almost 100% of the votes counted there is no clear winner in Uruguay. Daniel Martinez of the governing leftist Frente Amplio coalition took a considerable 40.7% of the votes and Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative Partido Nacional took 29.7%. According to electoral law a winner is declared with 50% plus one of the votes. They will go to a run-off election on November 24.
Martinez is a socialist activist and if he becomes president, he will follow in the political footsteps of current president Tabaré Vázquez, who has popular appeal and is considered politically progressive. Domestically Vázquez has been able to maintain a strong coalition and internationally he has established good regional relationships, including with Cuba and Venezuela.
Lacalle is pro-business and promised austerity measures during his campaign. His chances in the run-off will depend largely on how much support he can get from the other smaller parties. Both candidates will put a lot of effort into garnering that support over the next few weeks.
Argentina, on the other hand, has a new president assuming office on December 10, replacing right wing Mauricio Macri who has conceded to Alberto Fernandez.
Argentinian voters have clearly voted against the neoliberal policies of Macri and have chosen Alberto Fernandez and his vice-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) with 48% of the vote, compared to 40% for Macri. Only 45% was needed to avoid a runoff vote.
The election was mostly decided around economic issues. The ballot was a rejection of Macri’s neoliberal model that imposed an austerity program that has been in place for the last four years. Under that model Argentina has been on the verge of an economic recession while it’s dealing with a reported $50 to $100 billion debt, which has been a contributing factor to the 50% inflation rate, and increased unemployment and poverty levels. Thirty-five out of every one hundred Argentinians are estimated to have been pushed into poverty.
Alberto Fernandez came to centre stage in politics on May 18 when CFK, who was expected to launch her candidacy, surprisingly announced that Alberto Fernandez would be the presidential candidate for the Frente de Todos (Front for All) party and that she would be the vice-president. The Front for All is a progressive coalition of unions and social movements. The party is politically aligned with Peronism, named after the ideology of former president Juan Domingo Peron, based on social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty.
Alberto Fernandez himself has politically conservative roots; however, he was able to work with supporters of Peronism by rejecting IMF-imposed austerity measures and eventually became chief of staff in the Nestor Kirchner administration (2003-2007). When Cristina Fernandez, Kirchner’s wife, became president Alberto Fernandez turned critical of her administration. His criticism, though, was considered to be healthy self-criticism and not in contradiction with the overall progressive political stance.
Given CFK’s popularity in Argentina she may be considered the driving force behind the electoral success. However, her presidency (2007-2015) was not void of controversy. Some of her most contentious policies, such as increased taxation for agricultural exports and a fiscal austerity program, did not go through in the face of popular opposition. But she can also be credited for her policies to reduce poverty, including a universal child allowance program for parents in precarious economic situations. A UNICEF report attributed the reduction of extreme poverty by 30.8% and general poverty by 5.6% to this program.
The main reason CFK is considered a progressive president and part of the “Pink Tide” in the region is her foreign policy. She put Argentina’s sovereignty above IMF demands and consistently fully aligned herself with progressive leaders like Luiz Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, recently re-elected Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
Unlike Fernandez, CFK has a proven track record; but the two were brought politically closer through their opposition to Macri’s neoliberal policies. However, their once-different political positions raise questions about their future as a team in government. For the time being we have to believe that their common goal will be to work for a cohesive center-left administration. After December 10, when Fernandez will be sworn in as president, we will see how strongly they adhere to their progressive reputation.
The regional sentiment for a continued strong relationship with Argentina and rekindling of Latin America progressive movement is fully expressed in the congratulatory statement from the government of Venezuela, which says in part, “It is a triumph that expresses the hope of the Argentine people to walk the path to rescue social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty in their country. The massive electoral participation reinforces the legitimacy of the election process and sends a clear message from the Argentine people in rejection of the imposition of the criminal economic neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund, imposed without mercy in recent years by the authorities in office.” It also expresses the desire to “strengthen the integration mechanisms of Latin America and the Caribbean” as an indirect reference to Macri’s rejection of that integration.