People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 25, 2011

  Pink Tide holds in Latin America


Yohannan Chemarapally


 THREE countries in Latin America – Argentina, Nicaragua and Guatemala went to the polls to elect new governments at the end of 2011. Argentina, the biggest of the three countries and a regional powerhouse, saw the incumbent president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner romp home with an impressive victory. In Nicaragua too, another incumbent president, Daniel Ortega, registered a handsome victory. Both Christina Fernandez and Ortega are part of the broad Left wing “pink tide” which has swept Latin America in the last decade. But the election of the right wing Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala is illustrative of the fact that the “pink tide” could be in danger of receding. Molina was a former general and intelligence head in the Guatemalan army when it was engaged in a brutal campaign against Left wing guerrillas when the country was under military rule. Molina becomes the first person with a military background to become president after army ceded power in the country after 25 years of iron fisted rule.


The results did not come as a surprise as opinion polls had predicted wins for all the three candidates. In the case of the Argentine president, it was a remarkable change of fortunes. Till last year, she was sliding in the polls. At one point, popular support had gone down to 20 per cent after she picked up fights with the powerful farmers lobby and media groups over the introduction of export quotas.  Her Party lost control of the Congress in 2009. To add to her misfortune, she lost her husband and political mentor Nestor Kirchner, the former president, who died of a heart attack in October last year. He was the man who revived his country’s economy after becoming president in 2003. Kirchner had stood aside in 2007 and let his wife run for the presidency. He was expected to run again this time but his sudden death left the leadership of the ruling Peronist Party in the hands of his wife.


Observers of the Argentine political scene attribute her landslide victory to the performance of the economy and the sympathy wave generated by the death of her husband. She got 56 per cent of the vote. Her nearest opponent, Hermes Binner of the Socialist Party got only 17 per cent. The rest of the votes were divided among other candidates, which included a former president, Eduardo Duhalde, a Peronist who split from the ruling party. The ruling party also swept the race for the Congress and the governors. The coalition government led by Fernandez called the Front for Victory will be the first one since the 1920’s to win three successive elections in Argentine history. Fernandez’s margin of victory was even greater that that of her idol, Juan Peron. Peron used to routinely win elections on a populist platform in the fifties and the sixties till his ouster by the military.




The 58 year old Fernandez had chosen her economy minister, Amado Boudou, as her running mate. The long haired guitar playing Boudou is very popular among the young voters. He is also credited to be the architect of Argentina’s economic turn around. Boudou’s stand is that the government’s first priority is the people and not the international lending institutions. The Argentine government had refused to introduce the austerity measures demanded by the World Bank and the IMF. Boudou was also the man responsible for nationalising pensions and using the country’s foreign reserves to bolster the economy. Argentina now has foreign reserves of $48 billion. Though Argentina suffers from one of the highest rates of inflation in the region, the government kept the public happy by increasing pensions, child welfare and the minimum wage by 25 per cent.    


There has been a sustained economic boom in the country since the Kirchners took over. The Argentine economy has grown faster than that of the other regional power house – Brazil. In fact, the Argentine economy is the third fastest growing economy after that of China and India. Unlike in most of the other countries that have been enjoying a sustained economic growth, the Peronist government in Argentina took care to spread the wealth around. For instance, it tripled social spending and in the process significantly bridged the gap between the rich and the poor. Nestor Kirchner had become president after the Argentine economy had become virtually bankrupt. The government of the day had declared a record breaking international debt default in 2001.Argentina has been cut off from major international lending since then. In the last couple of years, Argentina has cleared much of its international debts after dipping into the Central Bank’s huge reserves.


After the election results were announced, Fernandez pledged to continue on the path she has taken. She warned that the majority of the people, comprising of the workers and the middle class who supported her policies to remain vigilant and “not be knocked off-track as has happened so many times in our history, ruining projects that served the nation. They are still out there, those who knocked us down, many times directed form abroad”. She also made it a point to pay tribute to her late husband describing him as the “man who transformed Argentina”.




In Nicaragua too, after Ortega re-took the presidency five years ago, the people were happy with the modest economic turnaround the Sandinista government was able to achieve. Since Ortega’s return to power, the economy has grown steadily with exports doubling and foreign direct investments growing fivefold. Ortega had while firmly aligning his country with Cuba and Venezuela in the foreign policy arena, had, at the same time, managed to build up a strong relationship with the still influential Catholic Church and the business community. For instance, Ortega has not opposed the Vatican’s antiquated stance on family planning. Ortega’s economic adviser, Bayardo Arce said that the experience of the Sandinistas in government in the eighties taught them important lessons. “The experience of the 80’s taught us that you cannot achieve social justice or eradicate poverty by distributing what we have. We have to generate new wealth for social justice”, he told the media.


The Sandinistas after coming back to power in 2009 introduced many schemes to improve health and education. The poorest of the poor were given gifts of livestock. The special relations with Venezuela have come in very handy for the government. Venezuela provides a lot of aid and preferential access to oil to Nicaragua which is among the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Poverty however has fallen after Ortega took over. The former right wing president, Arnoldo Aleman, who was running for the top job again, conceded that it was no longer easy to demonise Ortega and the Sandinista Party. The slogan of Aleman’s Party five years ago was – “The Sandinistas are Communists and enemies of humanity”.


Ortega won with more than 60 per cent of the vote with his closest right wing rival, Fabio Gardia getting 25 per cent. International observers agreed that the conduct of the elections were fair and free. Washington had criticised the decision of the Nicaraguan Constitutional Court to overturn a ban on consecutive terms and to allow Ortega to contest again. It was alleged that the Constitutional Court was packed with judges appointed by Ortega. Fidel Castro in one of his recent Reflections hailed the “overwhelming victory” of Ortega. He wrote that Ortega’s victory was even more commendable as the Nicaraguan election “was held in a traditional and bourgeois style” with the pro-American oligarchy ranged against him. “The fundamental nature of Daniel’s role and the reason for my opinion about his overwhelming victory is that he never distanced himself from contact with the people and the never ending struggle for their well being”, observed Fidel.




The victory of a right wing army man in Guatemala seems to have had more to do with the law and order situation inside the country than with ideology. Guatemala’s homicide rate is among the highest in the world. The violence triggered by the never ending fight between the Mexican drug cartels and the State, has spilled over to neighbouring Guatemala. Drug cartels, according to many estimates, control 40 per cent of the country. Perez Molina, running on the ticket of the Patriotic Party, had on the campaign trail promised to use the “mano dura” (iron fist) against the drug gangs. He won with 53.4 per cent of the vote in the final run-off round against Manuel Baldizon of the Renewed Democratic Freedom Party. In the course of the election campaign, more than 43 people were killed in election related violence. “The first order of business will be to lower the levels of violence and insecurity” Perez said after emerging as the victor.


One of the key issues the new President has to deal with is on the question of impunity for those responsible for massacres and genocide during the 36 year long civil war that wracked the country. More than 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, most of them indigenous Mayans. They were the victims of the army and right wing paramilitary groups. Perez Molina was one of the army’s chief representatives involved in the negotiations to end the civil war in 1996. He has been insisting that the army was not involved in acts of genocide or atrocities against civilians despite plenty of documentary evidence and eye witness accounts showing otherwise.


The UN has instituted an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) began work in 2007 to investigate crimes and bring those responsible to justice. The other goals of the CICIG are to strengthen governmental institutions and reform an ineffectual criminal justice system. Paramilitary groups aligned with drug traffickers have exploited the ineffectual and corrupt judicial system to their advantage.  CICIG has already managed to achieve convictions of high level government and military officials. A Special Prosecutors Office has also been created. The newly elected President has to renew the CICIG mandate in early 2013. There are suspicions that the newly elected President is not too keen on the continuance of the CICIG. The elite in the country is not too happy that its members are being targeted. Guatemala is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region.