Massimiliano Mollona: The end of the Latin American pink tide? An introduction

This post is the introduction to a series on the Latin American pink tide, moderated and edited by Massimiliano Mollona (Goldsmiths, University of London).

The twenty-first century opened with a wave of radical political mobilizations sweeping through Latin America and brought left-wing parties in power in Brazil (2002), Argentina (2003), Uruguay (2004), Bolivia (2006), Chile (2006), Ecuador (2006), Paraguay (2008), and Peru (2011). The so-called “pink tide” was the result of the massive societal mobilization against the dislocation brought by dictatorships in the 1980s and the radical privatizations and austerity measures pushed through by neoliberal social democracies in the 1990s. The core impulse of this new political phenomenon were the cross-sectional and horizontal alliances between anti-imperialist, white middle classes; the traditional labor movement; and indigenous, women, and urban organizations. The antiglobalization movement that emerged from the World Social Forum (WSF) was another central engine of the pink tide, in creating a liaison between parties and social movements, and renewing the labor movement by bringing together the traditional industrial trade unions and diverse sections of civil society. In power, left-wing governments across Latin America renationalized companies, set in motion massive programs of poverty reduction and urban participation, which empowered women, indigenous, and black minorities.

But in summer 2015, the tide started to reverse. After more than a half-century of Cold War estrangement, United States President Barack Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro at the United Nations in a historical reopening of diplomatic relations that involved, among other things, the lifting of the economic embargo on Cuba. Shortly after, in Colombia, Tirofijo’s Marxist guerrilla and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to submit to a legal process from a state whose laws they had never recognized. In September, right-wing candidate Mauricio Macri became Argentina’s president, after having heavily defeated the Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli. In December, the center-right opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition swept to victory in elections for the National Assembly in Venezuela. For more than a year now, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) has faced impeachment over the Petrobras corruption scandal—the biggest in the country’s history. The latest countercurrent took place on 23 February in Bolivia, where the electoral authorities announced that voters in a referendum had rejected the constitutional amendment to let President Evo Morales run for a further term in 2019.

There is no doubt that “the economy” is central to this reverse of fortunes. The China-inspired commodity price boom that financed much of the “pink tide” of leftist governments in Latin America over the past fifteen years is ending. The most dramatic case is the bankruptcy of the Venezuelan state after the worldwide collapse in the price of crude oil, which triggered the end of Chavismo as well as Cuba’s historical opening to the United States. For Raul Zibechi (2015), the end of the commodity boom has exposed the limitations of the “extractionist” models of left-wing Latin American governments that funded vast welfare programs from commodities incomes and co-opt social movements within a “compensatory state.” Indeed, in spite of their radical stance against the Washington Consensus, left-wing politicians embraced the rules of the global economy, including financialization and austerity programs. But if the Latin American “neoliberal left” still supports market developmentalism, for the first time in the history of Latin America, we see opposition parties fully embracing free-market ideology. Lastly, with Saad-Filho (2013) we may argue that, ironically, the current dwindling consensus behind left-wing governments reflects the fact that they are indeed democratically accountable, as the current referendum in Bolivia seems to show, and that the process of democratization in Latin America that started twenty to thirty years ago is bearing its fruits. On the other hand, the latest mass mobilizations against Rousseff, Chavez, and Morales bring to the fore the fragility of the left in Latin America and the everlasting historical triple alliance between national bourgeoisies, states, and foreign capital.

This special series will start with the contribution by Sian Lazar contribution on Argentina and Iselin Åsedotter Strønen on Venezuela. We will follow with contributions from Bolivia, Equador, and much more.

Massimiliano Mollona teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work focuses on labor, class, and political economy and on visual art and film.


Zibechi, Raúl. 2015. “Se acelera el fin del ciclo progresista sudaméricano.” La Jornada, 30 October.

Saad-Filho, Alfredo. 2013. Mass protest under “left neoliberalism”: Brazil, June-July 2013. Critical Sociology 39(5): 657–669.

Cite as: Mollona. Massimiliano. 2016. “The end of the Latin American pink tide? An introduction.” FocaalBlog, 15 March.