Earlier this month, Brazil began its series of elections. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as simply Lula, came out ahead of Brazil’s current president Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is the leader of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, a center-left to left-wing party. Bolsonaro has had many issues in his presidency, namely corruption and late last year his approval rating was less than 25%. This is not surprising considering the leader’s disastrous COVID-19 response that mirrored President Trump’s and resulted in rampant infections and nearly 700,000 deaths. But the election was too close per Brazilian law, and now a runoff election will be held on Oct. 30. This election plays into larger historical regional factors. These factors put Latin America at a crossroads and will shape the road it takes from this moment forward.
From the moment of independence from Spain — and in the case of Brazil, Portugal — Latin America was thrust into a very conservative, landed elite. These figures, known as caudillos, were mainly wealthy landowners who were not looking to give up their privileged positions now that independence had been achieved. Instead, worker and peasant rights were often violated and popular opposition grew. Possibly the first major instance of this was the Mexican Revolution. This uprising was largely triggered by peasant discontent at landlord practices ennobled by the conservative military dictatorship. The US supported the crushing of the rebels and one should remember the long existing Monroe Doctrine which had for years been used to justify intervention in numerous Latin American states.
The pattern of US intervention and exploitation of the region would continue. The United States perpetuated severe mistreatment of Latin America. Many know of the infamous United Fruit Company which helped engineer the 1954 coup in Guatemala to secure their massive land holdings. But the mistreatment continued as the US oversaw numerous regime change operations in the region including in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and several others. They also supported existing oppressive regimes from popular ousting including in Nicaragua, Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and many more. Often, the status quo was maintained in Latin America and the United States profited immensely from the exploitation of the region’s people and resources. In the three years from 2018-2020, US firms invested $18 billion in operations linked to Amazon deforestation. Therefore the crises in the region are often very linked to US imperialist exploitation which has kept wages low, labor conditions undesirable and the state of life often marred by right-wing dictatorial repression.
But resistance to this has never ended. There have been outright revolutions such as in Cuba and Nicaragua and electoral victories such as in Venezuela in 1999 with the Bolivarian revolution. This has grown in recent years with the so-called Pink Tide. The Pink Tide has been a major center-left to left-wing movement since the turn of the century that has seen many Latin American nations engaging in anti-neoliberal movements that emphasize regional independence from the American grip. As mentioned above, it should be clear why this is needed. Recently the movement has gained much momentum, and if Lula is able to claim victory, the Pink Tide will actually have won in essentially every South American nation. The prospect of this is exciting as this presents the region with the opportunity to form a bloc of resistance to US attempts at sabotage and sanctioning. I think this movement further dispels the colonial image of Latin America as an incompetent people in need of guidance from outside rationality. We need to remember how things got this way. I can think of no better quote to end with than this one from Marxist scholar Michael Parenti:
“But that expropriation of the Third World that’s been going on for 400 years brings us to another revelation-namely that the Third World is not poor. You don’t go to poor countries to make money. There are very few poor countries in this world. Most countries are rich. The Philippines are rich. Brazil is rich. Mexico is rich. Chile is rich. India is rich. Congo is rich. Only the people are poor. But there’s billions to be made there and to be carved out and to be taken. There’s been billions for 400 years. The capitalist European and North American powers have carved out and taken the timber, the flax, the hemp, the cocoa, the rum, the tin, the copper, the iron, the rubber, the bauxite, the slaves and the cheap labor. They have been taken out of these countries. These countries are not underdeveloped, they’re overexploited.”