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Second pink wave: a new stage?

The election of Gabriel Boric in Chile in December 2021, coupled with elections in Colombia and Brazil throughout 2022, may confirm the rise of a new “pink wave” in Latin America. This wave, however, should be understood as a new moment and not as a second half of the first one – the cycle of left-wing governments in the region during the 2000s and the first half of 2010. Or worse, as the continuation of something that would not have even come to an end, that would have been only momentarily blocked.

Pink wave 2.0 or more of the same?

This possible second pink wave will struggle between the new and the old: the new that is being born, the old that refuses to die. It will be presented in a context of a long transition, towards a different historical moment from the one we had at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century.

In a context of organic crisis and several overlapping transitions, to project a pink wave that resumes the previous one without greater self-criticism and adaptations will lead to inferior results in comparison with the first wave, and to a shorter survival. It would be proposing more of the same, in a worse context and from societies that have been considerably transformed.      

Some new elements could take center stage in this second cycle. Exclusivist nationalisms could be partly circumvented by a revival of regional integration and activation of regional identities. Dormant institutions of integration can be re-founded, and joint strategies can be sought to tackle decisive issues such as climate crisis, overcoming the pandemic once and for all, the flow of people and the fostering of regional citizenship, the expansion of rights, the confrontation of extractivism, and the reduction of epistemic and technological dependence.

Exclusivist statism could also be circumvented, considering the State as an articulating core of complex issues, and the axis of effective alliances between political forces and social movements. These demands gathered through the State can become a strategy to produce hegemony, synthesizing fragmented needs that emerged from multiple forms of oppression. The State is also important to plan investments in science, technology, innovation, and education.

However, we should bet on radical versions of democratization, co-government, and power-sharing, involving this State in new articulations with collective actors.  

“Modérnicos” versus “Pachamâmicos”

One can think of overcoming syntheses of the dilemma translated as “modérnicos” versus “pachamâmicos”, which seems to cross the regional lefts. This dilemma was transcribed into the division between “correístas” (Andrés Arauz) and “indigenists” (Yaku Pérez) in the 2021 Ecuadorian elections, which led to the defeat of the lefts and the election of Guillermo Lasso.

Despite expressing a simplifying dichotomy, the Ecuadorian example, associated with the debates triggered within the critical intelligentsia, makes one suppose that such tension between neo-developmentalist (or neoextractivist) and ecologist-indigenist projects really exist at some level.

But this contradiction should not be understood as insurmountable. It is possible to build bridges, in order to allow dialogues and syntheses. On the one hand, it is no longer possible to remain within the limits of classic Western economic development, which is leading humanity down a blind alley. It is possible to think of alternative developments, avoiding the same strategies that deplete nature.

However, these alternatives cannot dispense with a post-capitalist horizon, nor abandon the class struggle as a fundamental aspect, nor ignore the crucial role of the State as an inducer and organizer of transformative projects.

More of the same and the Boric factor

In this sense, the Chilean reestablished process would have something to contribute, adding new elements and perspectives on topics such as development, ecology, climate change, conceptions of progress, indigenous, reproductive, and immigrant rights, feminism, among other important issues.

The Boric government will probably differentiate itself from other regional experiences, in good measure re-editions of the progressive cycle in a downgraded version. Governments such as those of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, Alberto Fernández in Argentina, and the possible return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, point to attempts to resume projects that have already been pushed to the limits of their possibilities for change without rupture, losing mobilizing capacity.

Other governments, such as those of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the former a survivor of the first pink wave, the latter coming from a previous rupturist stage and reincarnated in the pink wave, present themselves as authoritarian degeneration of themselves.

Let’s consider the Brazilian case to reinforce this point. The hope for a return of Lula does not translate into expectations for structural transformations, but simply for blocking the authoritarianism, violence, and social dismantling of the Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government. 

Therefore, lowered expectations in relation to the first governments of Lula, who never proposed structural transformations. If before one could hope for reforms and social investments, now the expectation is that elections will take place, that they will be clean, that Lula will take office, be able to govern, and finish his mandate.

Great expectations

More can be expected from Boric. His government should inaugurate a new stage, to be consolidated by the burial of the Pinochetist Constitution of 1980. He will have to govern in dialogue with social movements, minorities, youth, and feminism. Recognize the struggles of the Mapuche indigenous people from the south of the country, deal humanely with irregular immigrants, seek memory and justice for the crimes committed by the military dictatorship and the repression of recent social outbreak.     

It is an inclusive project, with expanded rights for minorities and expanded access to health, education, and welfare. A project that could begin to break with liberalism as a “way of life”. Such liberalism, hegemonically established in the region beyond the presence or not of “progressives” in power. Chile is emblematic in this sense. The authoritarian neoliberal sociability has crossed the different levels of social life, following its development that began with Pinochet, even with formal democratization and during the Concertación governments.

But the decisive factor is that the new government is the institutional translation of a popular revolt, complements the ongoing constituent process, and will support the regulation and institutionalization of the changes that will be inscribed in the new Constitution. It also represents a new generation that emerges. Leaves the generation of 1968, composed of the young cadres of Salvador Allende’s government, no longer so young during the concerted transition and the Concertación governments. The boys of the “penguin revolution” of 2006 and the student revolt of 2011 and 2012 enter the scene.

Boric’s government can thus present itself as a novelty, in the midst of downgraded resumptions in deteriorated contexts of projects from two decades ago. It is not an alternative to capitalism. But it does involve high expectations.

Translated from Portuguese by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Profesor de Ciencia Política de la Univ. Fed. del Estado de Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). Vicedirector de Wirapuru, Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios de las Ideas. Postdoctorado en el Inst. de Est. Avanzados de la Univ. de Santiago de Chile.


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