Maduro, Boric and the two Latin American lefts: Petkoff revisited


Gabriel Boric's victory in Chile ratifies the coexistence of two currents within the Latin American left. A priori, the millennial Boric - who takes many of his references from US progressivism - has little to do with the hardened left of Maduro, Ortega and Díaz-Canel.

In essence, it is a long-standing problem on the left, with such notorious episodes as the reformist Bernstein vs. the maximalist Lenin. Perhaps no one has transplanted it to Latin America and posed its regional nuances as luminously as the Venezuelan social democrat Teodoro Petkoff. His famous article 'The two lefts' has become commonplace, and even the germ of a whole regional political sub-genre, busy bifurcating the indigenous left on a case-by-case basis.

Let us recall that Petkoff closed his article by describing the "communicating vessels" of the two lefts. Today, more than three decades later, and after a regional overview, it is worth doing the same.

The regional "shift to the right" over the past decade does not seem to have achieved its objectives: the Latin American left is once again typical.

"For the first time, Latin America's six largest economies, accounting for 90 per cent of its GDP, could be governed by progressive presidents. Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru already are, and we will have to wait a few months to confirm it when the elections in Brazil and Colombia take place, in which everything indicates that Lula da Silva and Gustavo Petro will win," reported El País.

Beyond Boric, in Argentina, Kirchnerism, after twelve years in power, returned to the Casa Rosada after Macri's mandate, with Alberto Fernández and his vice-president, Cristina Kirchner, at the head.

AP/NATACHA PISARENKO - El presidente argentino Alberto Fernández saluda junto a Cristina Fernández

In Uruguay, fifteen years shared by the left of Tabaré Vázquez and Pepe Mujica. Although the right has returned to Uruguay, it is true that "the myth of Pepe" is still relevant worldwide.

In Peru, fifteen years of left-wing rule have seen Toledo, García and Humala with few variations, despite discursive differences. After the crux of Pedro Kuczynski and the constitutional presidents, the much more radical left of Pedro Castillo has returned to Peru.

In Bolivia, thirteen years of Evo Morales were interrupted by the emergence of Jeanine Áñez. Bolivians did not appreciate the change, the "coup-plotting" president was imprisoned and the return of moralism to the presidency with Luis Arce was legitimised.

In Colombia, despite the fact that the left has never governed, the candidate scoring in the polls is Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla close to Madurismo and to bellicose and radical demobilised sectors.

In Ecuador, ten years of Rafael Correa were interrupted by the upheaval of his apparent successor, Lenín Moreno. Despite the moderate right's rule, the 'Correa myth' lives on in the leftist narrative.

Greater Caribbean. Venezuela has had 22 years of dictatorship, fourteen under Chávez, eight under Maduro. Little has changed in Cuba with the death of Fidel and the - nominal - departure of Raúl. Miguel Díaz-Canel rules with the same vigour as his predecessors.

In Nicaragua, after a first five-year term in office in the 1980s and a long interruption, Ortega and his wife - the vice-president - are inaugurating their fifth term in office. Sandinismo has ruled for fourteen years in a row.

In Mexico, the eternal candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, finally became president in 2018.

In Brazil, Lula and Dilma have been in office for twelve years. Despite the problems and accusations - not for free - of corruption, Lula is ahead in the polls against Bolsonaro.

REUTERS/MANAURE QUINTERO - El presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, habla durante una conferencia de prensa en el Palacio de Miraflores en Caracas, Venezuela

The first to see a clear distinction between the two realities of the Latin American left was Petkoff. A former guerrilla fighter, he was among the first to distance himself from the Soviet Union and Cuba in order to propose a pragmatic, welfare-based alternative development model for Latin America.

Although a minister in the late 1990s, he highlighted the institutional complications and the excessive increase in inequality brought about by the region's frenetic economic development. From day one, he warned from the left of the Chavista danger. Winner of the María Moors Cabot and Ortega y Gasset Prize, he died in Caracas in 2018.

The hard left: castrochavismo. Called by Petkoff the "Bourbon left" - which neither forgets nor learns - it stems from two major axes: Castro and Chávez. Nourished by profound social problems, such as poverty and racial discrimination, its magical-religious discourse evokes, anachronistically, the Cuban narrative and has constituted perhaps the most relevant mass phenomenon in the history of Latin America.

Despite the tutelage of "Papa Fidel", Chávez managed to articulate his own form of authoritarianism in the guise of democracy. The cohabitation of a soft, pimpish and corrupt opposition -which still survives-, the squabbles in the press, the expropriations on national television... all this constitutes a perfectly exportable model whose "shock wave", in Petkoff's words, is more powerful than the Cuban one. And so it has proved. Chávez, with his influence, brought more leftist leaders to power in less than twenty years under the idea of "Bolivar's Patria Grande" than the Cuban Revolution in its entire history, such as Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega.

AFP PHOTO/ACN/ARIEL LEY - Imagen difundida por la Agencia Cubana de Noticias (ACN) que muestra al presidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel

Today, although the discourse has changed little, the praxis of Castro-Chavismo is radically different. In Venezuela, however, Maduro, supported by the new and old oligarchies, has begun to consolidate a model similar to the Chinese one, much more rigid and far removed from Chávez's populism. This new Venezuelan reality, Chavismo-Madurismo - no longer Marxism-Leninism or Castro-Chavismo - seems to be perfectly exportable to other countries. Although they may deny it, the approaches of the recently elected Pedro Castillo in Peru and Colombia's Gustavo Petro, who is leading the presidential polls, are very similar.

Boric's victory in Chile is not unrelated to the other leftist paradigm in the region: the myths of Lula, Correa and Mujica are still alive. The discourse of this left, in principle moderate, has sought to portray itself as conciliatory and democratic. Its historical practice has tended towards the welfare state and pragmatic rapprochement with the US and the European Union, which, in Petkoff's words, can be summed up as "probable tensions, but inevitable coexistence".

This left, on the one hand, contemplates a minimum respect for the general rules of macroeconomics and, on the other, has internalised a series of democratic values that prevent it from taking an authoritarian turn as a result of having faced the military dictatorships of the last century, as the Venezuelan claims. The latter has earned him the praise of the first world, even though the results of his governments have been little more than disastrous.

First Fernández and now Boric, raising the banners of Lula, Correa and Mujica, have modelled this left into a vegetarian left -Álvaro Vargas Llosa dixit-. Largely influenced by the expansionist wave of woke progressivism, born in American universities, they have begun to vehemently address the question of abortion, homosexual marriage, gender ideology and decolonial theories.

AFP/LUKAS GONZALEZ – El presidente de Perú, Pedro Castillo

Petkoff's theory sheds light on a reality that continues to loom large in the regional panorama: there are two Latin American lefts, their practice and discourse is diametrically different, but they work together to perpetuate, protect and promote themselves.

While it is true that Castro-Chavismo is authoritarian and rather conservative on these issues - especially true in the case of Chávez and Castillo - the Woke left is in no way dissociated from it. On the contrary, this left has not only been a guarantor of the other's interests in the region, but there are frequent discursive references in which it defends its praxis forcefully and the form of their friendly relations, with their consent, are addressed as between son and father.

This stability is the consolidation of Chávez's geopolitical project: the patria grande, but red-red, whatever the cost. Although we could trace the idea back to the São Paulo Forum - all, or almost all, Latin American leftist leaders are members of the São Paulo Forum - what is certain is that the definitive phenomenon that made the left a true political reality in Latin America and the Caribbean is the victory of Hugo Chávez due to three elements that rarely concur: petrodollars, shamelessness and continental presence, as detailed in some statements by Chávez dissidents.

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