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The influence of the European Far Right in Latin America

The advance of the far right in the European elections not only resonates in the region but may also become a driving force for the radicalization of the traditional right in Latin America.

For some decades now, the world has been witnessing the rise of the far right in several countries, each with its own particularities. Nationalism has raised new flags in various regions, where the moderate right has lost strength to the rising far right. Speaking of these movements in the plural implies recognizing their peculiarities and not pigeonholing them into a homogeneous concept.

Authors such as Anthony Giddens, Norberto Bobbio, Pippa Norris and Pablo Stefanoni agree that the precepts of the right are based on the defense of life and private property. Recently, they have adopted the struggle for the free market, nationalism and anti-system discourses. The 21st century has given way to the formation of the new right, which is more aggressive discursively, bordering on populism in some cases.

The waves of migration from North Africa and the Middle East detonated nationalist and anti-immigrant discourses in Europe. Parties dating back to the last century, such as Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, have had a slow but steady rise, while in other countries new radical parties have emerged. Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the political party Law and Justice in Poland or Alternative for Germany gained prominence partly as a result of the rejection of migration.

But the rise of radicalism can also be understood as a result of dissatisfaction with democracy, traditional parties, economic crises and the expansion of leftist ideology in some nations. In this context, sectors of various countries began to be attracted by politicians who said what they wanted to hear and left political correctness aside. This was the seed of the European nationalist right. And while in the United Kingdom Boris Johnson was promoting himself as the only one capable of achieving the exit from the European Union, in the United States the first candidacy of Donald Trump was consolidating.

The links between the European and American extreme right-wingers

Trump’s electoral triumph in 2015 meant a boost to the far right all over the world, including Europe, while in the region the  so-called pink tide still predominated because of the diversity of leftists who governed. However, with the 2018-2024 electoral cycle, Latin American right-wing radicals began to become increasingly relevant, adopting aggressive postures to attract new social sectors. Nayib Bukele became the promoter of heavy-handed politics, libertarian Javier Milei managed to make his voice heard around the world, but Jair Bolsonaro was the first great leader of this new era.

Bolsonaro, founder of Bolsonarismo, represents an ideology characterized by a fervent militarism, the exaltation of traditional values such as family and religion, and the harsh opposition to the advancement of minority and women’s rights. On the other hand, Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, has become known worldwide for his iron fist policies, fascinating leaders of several countries. Bukele, through states of exception and the consolidation of a quasi-hegemonic party, has pursued major criminal gangs.

Its method has generated criticism for violating human rights. However, several politicians in the region have been interested in his model to combat violence: from the leftist president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, to the Argentinean Minister of the Interior, Patricia Bullrich.

Finally, Javier Milei’s victory in 2023 opened the way to libertarianism. Some have nicknamed him “Argentina’s Trump” and have described him as a response of neoliberalism to the crisis marked by inflation in the country and the wear and tear of almost twenty years of Kirchnerist governments.

Today, the advance of the far right is visible all over the world. In Europe, while in Italy Giorgia Meloni became Prime Minister, imposing a nationalist agenda that seeks to restore the glory of the Mediterranean nation, figures such as the Dutch Geert Wilders continue to grow stronger, to the point that after the 2024 elections it is very likely that he will become Prime Minister. In France, after the legislative elections, Rassemblement National became the most voted force, while in Spain the Vox party has not had an exponential growth but has managed to position itself as one of the three most voted forces at national level.

Faced with this rise of the extreme right, the traditional right-wing parties became the second most voted forces in several parliaments, such as Finland, Sweden, Serbia and Bulgaria, to mention a few. In others, such as Poland, Hungary and Austria, they have become governing parties that now seek to accumulate greater power, modify the correlation of forces in the European Union and extend their influence to other latitudes.

The rise of these parties and leaders is due, to a large extent, to the high voting levels of young people between the ages of 21-29, who are more attracted to the extremes. This is not exclusive to the Old Continent; according to Latinobarómetro, support for democracy has been declining and many prefer an authoritarian leader who guarantees economic stability, security and social mobility.

2024 a key year

This has been a key year for the European and American far right. The elections for the European Parliament showed a growth of radicalism, and while the Europeanists and center-right have the majority, nationalism positioned itself as the second most present bloc. Their victory led Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call for early elections, which provoked the rise of Le Pen, and the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, to resign from his post, while large protests took place in several countries.

In America, meanwhile, his co-religionists Javier Milei, Jair Bolsonaro, Nayib Bukele, Daniel Noboa and Donald Trump celebrated the results of the European elections. The fact is that this European advance not only resonates in the region but may become an engine of radicalization of the traditional right in Latin America, a region where the left governs in most countries and often under populist leaders.

In short, although it may seem that the electoral effects of Europe and the United States do not affect the American reality, this is already a reality, and the first Trump administration was a clear example. In a world interconnected by technology and information, discourses permeate not only domestic but also extraterritorial audiences. Therefore, perhaps we should start paying more attention to what is happening, not only on the other side of the Rio Bravo, but also on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to foresee the possible impacts in Latin America.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.

Autor

Political scientist from UNAM with a diploma in journalism from the Carlos Septién School of Journalism.

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