Revulsion in Venezuela fuels hard right in Latin America
ODO EVENING last month Francisco Sagasti, who served as Peru’s interim president for eight months until July, launched his new book in Barranco, a bohemian neighborhood in Lima. Mr. Sagasti, an academic, is a centrist who has ruled the country through a contentious election. The event was disrupted by protesters who surrounded the bookstore chanting “corrupt” and “murderous” at the author while beating a journalist. They belonged to “The Resistance”, a group formed in 2018 under the banner of “God, Fatherland and Family” to oppose communism and liberalism. They are one of the many facets of a new, more aggressive right wing in Latin America.
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Its breakthrough came with the election in 2018 of Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil. A former army officer with contempt for democracy and nostalgic for his country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, Mr. Bolsonaro marked a break with the region’s old political norms. Since democratization in the 1980s, with one or two exceptions, conservative political forces have generally been moderate, often influenced by Christian Democracy.
Mr. Bolsonaro has spawned potential imitators of various kinds. Among them, Guido Manini, a retired army commander who pledged to crack down on crime and who, as a political outsider, won 11% of the vote in the 2019 Uruguayan presidential election. In Peru, Rafael López Aliaga, a businessman and member of Opus Dei, a Catholic movement, won 12% of the elections in April on a platform of social conservatism and extreme economic liberalism. In Argentina, Javier Milei, a libertarian economist, is set to win a seat in Congress in an election this month, against the main center-right coalition as well as the ruling Peronists.
Closest to power is José Antonio Kast, a former lawmaker who, during his first presidential campaign in 2017, said that if he was alive General Pinochet, Chile’s 1973-90 dictator, would vote for him. For this month’s presidential election, he vowed to “restore Chile” with mano dura (“A firm hand”) against crime and violent unrest, a border divide to stop immigrants, the withdrawal of international human rights bodies and tax cuts to promote economic growth. It also claims to defend the European heritage and national unity of Chile against the left’s adherence to indigenous groups and multiculturalism. Mr Kast seems ready to run in the second round of the presidential elections against Gabriel Boric of the far left.
Mr. Kast is not Mr. Bolsonaro. Rather, he represents a radical populist right, more in the mold of Álvaro Uribe, President of Colombia from 2002 to 2010. He insists on the fact that he is not an “extremist” and does not deny now that there is had abuse under Pinochet. Not all new rights pose a clear threat to democracy itself. But some do. They are all less accommodating than the old Conservative parties. Minority groups have reason to be concerned.
What explains the rise of the new right? One factor is the formation in recent years of grassroots groups with Catholic and evangelical ties that have campaigned against abortion, gay rights and feminism. Another is popular demand for protection from crime. As with the radical left, the radical right benefits from the public’s disillusionment with economic stagnation and traditional Democratic politicians, who are seen as selfish if not corrupt. But what unites all these new right-wing forces, says Ariel Goldstein, a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires, is “the specter of Venezuela” who sought to export its left-wing dictatorship which spreads poverty. In this sense, the radicalization of the right is the mirror of the same process of the left. Part of the reason Mr Kast has a chance of winning, as he does, is because Mr Boric, although himself a Democrat, espouses a statist economic agenda and has Communist allies.
Latin America’s new law is also part of a wider international trend. Donald Trump’s victory in the United States in 2016 paved the way for Mr. Bolsonaro. Mr Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, has close ties to the nativist fringe of the Republican Party. Vox, a Spanish anti-immigrant party, is now acting as an agent uniting the New Right in Latin America. In September, it published a “Letter from Madrid” denouncing communism in the “Iberosphere” and signed to date by nearly 9,000 politicians and activists including MM. Kast, López Aliaga and Milei, as well as Eduardo Bolsonaro. Latin America’s Liberal Democrats now face not only an authoritarian left, but a far more intolerant right than in the recent past.
This article appeared in the Americas section of the print edition under the title “Spooked by Venezuela”