LIMA (Reuters) – Latin America has got a new leftist star.
Pedro Castillo, a socialist and son of peasant farmers, is on the cusp of winning Peru’s presidential election after rising from obscurity to all but beat a conservative rival, the daughter of a former president.
His rapid ascension may bode ill for conservatives across the region and herald a new ‘pink tide’ of leftist leaders, as raging poverty fanned by the coronavirus pandemic sways voters towards those who promise bigger government and higher social spending.
Upcoming elections could see the region’s political and social faultlines being redrawn. Colombia’s conservatives are under pressure ahead of a 2022 vote and in Chile the right faces defeat in elections this year, while the country is rewriting its decades-old constitution in the wake of popular protests.
Political Cartoons on World Leaders
Brazil is also facing an election battle next year, with a resurgent left looking to unseat right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.
“The result from ballot boxes in Peru is symbolic and represents another advance in the popular struggle in our beloved Latin America,” tweeted leftist former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
A survey in May showed either Lula or another possible leftist candidate would win a potential runoff vote next year against Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed some 500,000 Brazilians.
Latin America’s left made its greatest strides with the first so-called ‘pink-tide’ of socialist leaders in the early 2000s.
Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua – who remains in power – were joined by Raul Castro of Cuba, Lula in Brazil and Rafael Correa from Ecuador.
As the commodity boom that helped fund the social programs they championed ebbed away, though, that wave subsided and the right returned – with figures such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Ivan Duque in Colombia, Mauricio Macri in Argentina and Sebastian Pinera from Chile.
A new shift to the left in Latin America could impact the balance of diplomacy with the United States and China. More state intervention and higher taxes could also affect investment in the agricultural and mineral-rich region, a major global supplier of goods from copper to corn.
“In Peru, Chile and Colombia, countries nurtured by the North American empire as a model of capitalism, we see rebellions against neo-liberalism,” tweeted Morales, who heads Bolivia’s ruling MAS socialist party and remains a powerful figure behind the scenes.
He said that students, socialist movements and workers were pushing for “structural changes.”
In Peru, the rise of Castillo – whose narrow victory has yet to be officially confirmed by electoral authorities – was fueled by anger at the political elite, rising poverty and rural voters feeling excluded from the spoils of the Andean nation’s mineral resources.
Castillo, who mixes conservative values with socialist ideas, slammed mining firms for “looting” and pledged to hike their taxes to pay for better healthcare and education. His success has rattled the Lima elite and Peru’s financial markets.