The 7th of October is a fairly significant day in contemporary history. It is the day in which the United States kicked off its invasion of Afghanistan and began the global “War on Terror” in 2001, thus initiating the early stages of its decline as the sole global superpower. It is also Vladimir Putin’s birthday (1952), and the day Dutch national airline KLM was established back in 1919. All fun facts for sure. But October 7, 2018, depending on the outcome of a key event, could further amplify the importance of the day, most especially in Latin America.
On that day, the people of Brazil will go to the polls to elect a new president, as well as a massive number of federal, state, and local officials. On the presidential ballot is a whole slate of very diverse candidates occupying a wide range of places on the political spectrum. You have the usual suspects: centrists, a couple of leftists, the technocrat of the center-right, even a far-right candidate (declared a “caricature” of Donald Trump by another candidate), who openly and unabashedly praises his country’s years of right-wing, murderous dictatorship.
Nothing too unusual when it comes to elections (at least these days). But the impact of this election goes far beyond the lives of Brazilians and the people who govern them, beyond Rio De Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasilia. What is at stake on October 7, 2018 is the very soul of politics in sometimes tumultuous Latin America.
Now, this pronouncement may seem overly dramatic. Still, in recent years, the overwhelming success of the left in Latin America, a regional movement signed and sealed by the likes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and others, has been under concerted attack by right-wing forces in Central and South America and their allies to the north. Left-wing leaders in numerous countries that were at the heart of the so-called “Pink Tide,” have been replaced by conservatives. This includes places like Argentina, Chile, and suddenly, Ecuador, where the heir to leftist president Rafael Correia, Lenin Moreno, has made a startling right turn (it is worth reading this interview of the former Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in Geneva regarding this so-called “betrayal” by Moreno). The region’s political upheaval, especially obvious in the recent right-wing coup in Honduras for example, tends to have the US’ fingerprints all over it.
But things could soon be changing.
The Latin left is rallying. In Mexico, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, will soon assume office as president of the country. In Uruguay, the left is holding strong and steady, with the country even named “country of the year” in 2013 by the most elitist and neoliberal of all publications, The Economist (shocking for sure). Now is Brazil’s turn. Latin America’s largest economy could build on AMLO’s win in Mexico and play a role in reigniting the Pink Tide. Ousted leftist Brazilian President Dilmah Rousseff added her support to this sentiment when she called AMLO’s election a “victory for Latin America” in a tweet.
Nevertheless, the obstacles to this new left-wing surge are numerous in Brazil. The aforementioned Trump “caricature,” Jair Bolsonaro, could upend this curve to the left with his gun-toting, heavy-handed vision for his country. He is leading in the polls ahead of Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, Fernando Haddad (who has replaced as PT candidate imprisoned hero of the left, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva). A Bolsonaro victory is a frightening prospect geopolitically as well as domestically, considering his views, declarations, and seemingly insidious intentions when it comes to women and other marginalized groups, like Brazil’s LGBTQ community.
Besides being in the lead in the polls, there are some interesting demographic shifts (in terms of religion) at play in Brazil that could push Bolsonaro into the presidential palace. The number of Evangelical Christians in the country is growing quickly and thwarting the dominance of the Catholic Church. Evangelicals are a highly politically engaged force in Brazilian society and do not shy away from promoting their views on key social and cultural issues, issues being championed by Bolsonaro and his Social Liberal Party (PSL). Continued mobilization of Evangelicals could stop the left dead in its tracks and further the rise of conservative policies in the country.
As a campaign season marred by the murder of a leftist politician, rising social tensions, and politically motivated, violent attacks (on Bolsonaro for example) comes to an end, emotions are certainly high as Brazilians prepare for the 7th of October. Without a doubt, this day can certainly make or break the future of the Latin American left. The world, and especially the United States, is watching to see which candidates and groups will take power in a country already marred by corruption, rampant crime, and a weakened economy. Come October 7, 2018, a new page will turn for Brazil and possibly all of Latin America.
Will the future be pink once again? Let’s wait and see (and hope for the best).