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Latin America’s Pink Tide Never Went Away

by Luis F. Angosto-Ferrández on September 17, 2019
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It might be only a matter of definitions; but it is probably about something else too.

How come that there was such a widespread consensus around the idea that the so-called Pink Tide in Latin America was already a thing of the past by 2015 and more so that it had actually ended up marking a historical failure for the Left? This was certainly the view of many scholars and analysts inside and beyond Latin America, including a large share of progressive commentators. Though electoral victories of rightist candidates in several countries clearly modified the political scenario in the continent around that period, there was from the outset something perplexing about such a rapid acceptance of a questionable hypothesis. Furthermore, such acceptance has probably been consequential for the way in which it set limits to the analytical options of those who, in many parts of the world, keep on searching alternatives to neoliberal and, increasingly authoritarian, forms of governance.

But the Pink Tide was successful, it is alive, and it has already left in the continent some positive lasting effects beyond the specific governmental actions that, overall, contributed to de-naturalise neoliberal notions in public policy across the continent. Perhaps the most durable benefit of the Pink Tide is that it contributed to cement mass collective subjects that remain alive as the basis of progressive post-neoliberal alternatives to government throughout the continent. This is something interesting from a comparative perspective, as we suggested a while ago on another PPE blog post, and also something that is demonstrated by the precariousness with which right-wing governments are sustaining themselves across the continent – in several cases, largely dependent on turbid processes of judicialisation of politics. The weakness of these governments has been partly induced by the latent strength of the collective subjects that the Pink Tide helped cement, which are unwilling to give much space to the forces of neoliberal reconstitution.

I write these reflections on occasion of the publication of Steve Ellner’s book, which blows new air into a debate that some analysts had already falsely closed. The book is an edited collection entitled Latin American Pink Tide’s: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings, a presentation that suffices to anticipate some of its distinctive contributions and one that, needless to say, immediately separates it from any of the competing analysis that, as it were, one could summarise under the title “Latin America’s Pink tide: Gone with the Wind”. It is part of the Latin American Perspectives in the Classroom series, and partly builds on some revised articles published in a recent special issue of that journal in 2019. In a recently published interview, Ellner commented on some of the reasons why he finds weakness in the thesis of the end of the Pink Tide, but this is much more substantially developed in his introduction to the book and in the choral discussion that it encapsulates. I am a contributor to the book and thus you will have to take this recommendation against that caveat, but I certainly encourage all those interested in the analysis of Latin American politics and the current global scenario to have a look at it. You will not be disappointed, even if your take on the politics differs from the one of the contributors to this book.

In my own chapter within the book I make an intervention into the debates around ‘neo-extractivism’ and its political basis. The chapter is entitled “Neo-extractivism, Class Formations, and the Pink Tide”, and it situates the case of oil extraction in Venezuela as a platform to question some pre-conceptions that set boundaries to our capacities to understand governmental orientation towards resource extraction and the social forces that condition, support or oppose it. Here is an excerpt from the chapter that summarises its goals:

[This chapter] takes into consideration institutional politics and electoral results for what they express about governance and citizens’ political preferences, and questions the idea that co-optation and neutralisation of subaltern political forces are a defining characteristic of pink-tide governance (as is claimed by many of those who adhere to a pejorative definition of “populism”). I will use the government-fostered plan of mining development in the so-called Arco Minero del Orinoco (AMO: Orinoco Mining Arc), launched in 2016, to ground my discussion. This project, along with the political dynamics of support and opposition that it sparked, demonstrates that Bolivarian governments have been unsuccessful in overcoming extractivism and rentier capitalism as structuring foundations of the Venezuelan state. But it also confirms two additional questions: first, that Bolivarian governments remain supported by a post-neoliberal bloc made up of heterogeneous class fractions primarily amalgamated around a demand for socioeconomic development; second, the AMO confirms that mining, which mobilises many antagonistic interests (both among its supporters and between them and those who oppose mining), is the focus of a rapid readjustment of class formation in the region and the country. In the medium term, the implementation of the AMO may help to reactivate government-led redistribution in the country as a whole, but in the short term it has revealed a rearrangement of class forces whose main beneficiaries (to different degrees) are capital holders, corporatist groups of the state apparatus, groups of small and medium-size mining producers, and sectors of the indigenous population that demand extractive rights in association with their territorial rights.

Luis F. Angosto-Ferrández
Luis F. Angosto-Ferrández lectures in anthropology and Latin American Studies at the University of Sydney. His recent publications include 'Venezuela Reframed: Bolivarianism, Indigenous Peoples and the Socialisms of the 21st Century' (Zed Books, 2015) and 'Democracy, Revolution and Geopolitics in Latin America: Venezuela and the International Politics of Discontent' (Routledge, 2014).

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