Latin America's Unstable Pink Tide

January 5, 2023
March 10, 2023

Just weeks ago, crowds of protestors, angry over the impending replacement of conservative Jair Bolsonaro with the leftist Lula Da Silva as Brazil’s President, clashed with police in the nation’s capital. While disputes over the election have not yet produced a crisis which has threatened Lula’s incoming administration, they are typical of the instability which has seized the continent’s left-wing governments, producing a state of rapid disintegration which the United States will be forced to deal with in the coming year.

Within a week of the unrest in Brazil, Peru’s embattled left-wing president attempted to dissolve congress, only to be impeached and arrested, and his successor is hanging on for dear life, along with a congress too terrified to face voters in a new election. Chile’s government is paralyzed following the failure of a new constitution to be approved in a referendum. Bolivia is approaching civil war between the longtime left-wing leader Evo Morales and his one-time protégé, current President Luis Arce. A similar dynamic is playing out in Argentina between the vice president and president.

Latin America’s weakness has always been a greater strategic threat to the United States than any potential strength. A weak Latin America invites foreign influence, whether Chinese, Russian, or even Hezbollah in the case of Venezuela, creates a mass refugee flow towards the United States, and interrupts supply chains. By contrast, a strong Latin America keeps its population comfortable at home, and resists outside influence, while partnering with the U.S. economically and based on a shared Christian tradition.

Joe Biden’s policies are the latest in a long-line of often well-meaning liberal efforts to favor democracy in principle, which in practice means opposing all ruling parties, and as a result, destabilizing governments to the point of collapse. When every party in government fails to meet American liberal standards, then American policy becomes to undermine every government, and the result is total chaos – often followed by exactly the sort of totalitarian dictatorships that have proved so hard to dislodge in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Here is a look at some of the crises currently playing out in the Western Hemisphere.


Argentina’s World Cup victory came as a rare piece of good news in a country undergoing both an economic and political crisis. As a commodity exporter, Argentina was hit hard by the supply chain crisis, and as a net importer of non-commodities, this helped drive its currency back into crisis. Politically, the left-wing Peronist party suffered a catastrophic result in the 2021 midterms, losing its majority in the senate for the first time since democracy was restored in 1983.

The party is further divided between supporters of President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Kirchner’s husband was president from 2002 until 2007 and then she herself served from 2007 to 2015. The Kirchners combined radical redistributive policies at home with a far-left foreign policy abroad. Their authoritarian rule and mismanagement was unpopular enough that Ms. Kirchner was defeated for reelection in 2015, and when Peronists selected candidates for the 2019 elections, she chose to run for vice president, allowing for a more moderate face.

However, she had no intention of serving as vice president and has sought to oust her erstwhile boss. In turn, Alberto Fernandez has been caught in a vise when it comes to criminal charges against his vice president, including charges of treason for covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ Jewish community center. Any effort to oppose these investigations is seen as a political cover-up by the opposition, while allowing them to proceed is perceived by Kirchner supporters as proof that the president wishes to use the legal system to oust his vice president.

The center-right opposition holds a comfortable lead for the next elections, which sounds expected in these circumstances and would be in most countries. But in Argentina, the center-right has won only two presidential elections in nearly the last 40 years: one in 1999, which saw them ousted in 2001 following the Argentine debt crisis created under the previous left-wing government, and a second in 2015, which ended in their defeat in 2019. They have never controlled the senate at any point.

More surprising still has been the rise of Liberty Advances, a socially conservative, economically libertarian party led by Javier Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” and adherent of the “Austrian School of Economics.” He is a supporter of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, and has warned of the dangers of “cultural Marxism.” His movement has been polling between 18% and 24% of the vote compared to around 30-36% for the traditional center-right and 26-28% for the ruling Peronists. While that places them in third, Bolsonaro started in the same range, and it seems likely the other two alliances will field two “failed” former presidents. This development represents one of the few positive signs in an otherwise consistently depressing story of Argentine politics.


Brazil’s divisive 2022 elections bear a remarkable series of similarities with America’s own 2020 election: A politically incorrect but largely successful populist right-wing president faced a near octogenarian left-wing challenger from the past, with the de facto support of much of the country’s political, economic and social establishment who saw the latter as less of a threat to the “system” than the former. Like Joe Biden, Lula Da Silva also had a long history in politics, having served as president between 2003 and 2011.

While a left-winger, Lula was also running as the candidate of a coalition of interests the left had traditionally opposed, including the courts, local political machines, and financial elites. Lula even selected his 2006 center-right opponent as his running-mate. Polls showed a blowout lead for the challenger, only for the actual results to be a razor-thin 51%-49% margin. The victory of the left-wing candidate occurred simultaneously with right-wing candidates winning most other races on the ballot, showing it was elite defections, not some sort of surge for the left, that produced the result.

Like the U.S. 2020 election, Brazil’s 2022 election also left supporters of the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, bitter and feeling cheated. There were accusations of irregularities, but much more credible were charges that the election had not been a “fair fight.” It is one thing to lose an election according to the rules, but another to lose due to treachery. Just as many Trump supporters found it inconceivable that Donald Trump could lose to Joe Biden, millions of Brazilians believe Jair Bolsonaro lost to a concerted campaign by political and social elites to oust Bolsonaro by any means necessary, backed by a United States government that, under Biden, never hid its disdain for Bolsonaro.

Lula was inaugurated, as he was always likely to be, but the entire system lacks legitimacy. Even many of those who backed Lula fully understand that he is only in office due to a coordinated campaign to take down Bolsonaro, and they therefore feel no need to defer to a man they installed. In turn, the conservative congressional majority may feel free to bully a weak Lula, but they in turn have lost legitimacy with many of their own supporters by their perceived betrayal of Bolsonaro.

Early signs that Lula interprets his victory as a personal mandate, not the result of a decision by Biden and establishment Brazilian elites to remove Bolsonaro, are ominous for the new president serving out his term. Lula seems eager to restore relations with Russia, a course in which he will ironically have the backing of angry Bolsonaro supporters aggrieved over Biden’s intervention.

The next few years are likely to bring a dysfunctional gridlock between Lula and Congress, as investment flees, crime surges, and the economy collapses. Each will blame each other, with Lula flirting with some sort of self-coup, and Congress with impeachment, while the voters come to wish someone would appear to rid them of both. The only thing either side is likely to be able to agree on is the need to keep the graft flowing.

Early signs that Lula interprets his victory as a personal mandate, not the result of a decision by Biden and establishment Brazilian elites to remove Bolsonaro, are ominous for the new president serving out his term. Lula seems eager to restore relations with Russia, a course in which he will ironically have the backing of angry Bolsonaro supporters aggrieved over Biden’s intervention.


From 2005 until 2019, landlocked Bolivia was ruled by Evo Morales, a firebrand former union leader purporting to speak for the indigenous population, and his Movement for Socialism. Morales promised his supporters an end to corruption, dysfunctional government, and a redistribution of the proceeds of Bolivia’s natural resources.

What he actually delivered was divisiveness, authoritarian governance, and poor economic performance. Morales’ own constitution limited him to two terms of office, and a 2016 referendum to allow him to run for reelection was rejected by voters. Undeterred, Morales had his hand-picked Supreme Court rule that he could run for re-election indefinitely. The voters had a different perspective.

When Morales faced them in 2019, he was well short of 50%, much less the 61% he purportedly won in 2014. He also seemed set for a runoff, which he was likely to lose, until the counting slowed, and slowed, while over the next few days his lead edged upwards toward the 10% margin required to allow him to win without another round.

In the end, it was announced he had received 47.02%, compared to 36.51% for his nearest opponent. Protests rapidly erupted, and under pressure from the United States and the Organization of American States, Morales was forced to agree to a second round, in effect conceding he had tried to steal the first. Yet he refused to lay out a time or date, and tried to use it as excuse to refuse to seat the incoming congressional majority.

The military and police refused to follow his orders, and Morales, his vice president, and the head of the Chamber of Deputies all resigned, paving the way for Jeanine Anez, the second president of the senate, to become president.

No sooner had Anez become president than Bolivia was hit by COVID-19. Faced with the prospect of trying to hold elections in early 2020, Anez chose the worst course of action: She cited the pandemic as cause for delaying elections by nearly a year, and then held them in late 2020 during the height of the Delta wave, which the government was blamed for.

Morales was blocked from running, but the candidate of his Movement towards Socialism (MAS), Luis Arce, won with 55%, by promising a break both with Morales and his opponents. Morales apparently agreed with Arce’s critics in the election that Arce was intended to be his proxy, as Morales and Arce have rapidly feuded for control of MAS, which expelled the President, who Morales has denounced as a traitor.

The split is less ideological than personal. Arce, like Morales, is a leftist, and among his first acts were measures to reestablish Bolivia’s alignment with Venezuela and to rescind his predecessor’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Arce is also no liberal democrat, as seen by his own efforts to purge the military. What Bolivia has is a case of one left-wing authoritarian accusing another of being the same. Both are willing to accuse the other of plotting the overthrow of the government, while also using coercive power against their centrist and conservative foes.

That fact was evident when Arce responded to Morale’s baiting by arresting a leading opposition figure and charging him with involvement in the 2019 “coup,” setting off violent protests. The political civil war within the Bolivian left seems capable of pulling the entire country to the left or even starting a real civil war.

The danger for the U.S. is if Bolivia tries bidding for external support, especially from Cuba or the Maduro government, or violence spreads, as it already began to this summer.


On September 4, Chilean voters rejected a new constitution proposed by the left-wing dominated constituent assembly which would have replaced the (already amended) Pinochet-era document. Establishing a new constitution has come to be the emotional mission of the Chilean left over the past several decades, and the document they produced included virtually everything they could have dreamed, including special representation for indigenous tribes, rights to a basic income and welfare, the nationalization of resources, and even a commitment to fight climate change. For everyone else, the 178-page monstrosity was a nightmare, and voters rejected it 62%-38%.

It is hard to state how devastating this was to the Chilean left, represented by the President Gabriel Boric, a bearded, 37-year-old former student activist who was elected in 2020 as part of an alliance including the Communist Party. Boric’s approval rating fell to 33% in November 2022, with 60% disapproving. At the same time, the failure of the constitution prompted infighting within the wider coalition that has ruled Chile for much of the period since Pinochet left, with the far-left demanding that the Christian Democrats and even some Socialists, including former President Ricardo Lagos, be punished with expulsion for opposing the document.

Unfortunately for the Left, their congressional majorities depended on center-left parties and politicians who were lukewarm or opposed to the document, and this cost them control of Congress.

The right, however, was unable to take control of either chamber, as their own extreme flank refused to vote for Christian Democratic candidates for leadership. The result has been to leave in place an unqualified millennial president with no program, and both houses of Congress unable to organize themselves effectively, much less pass legislation. Chile’s reputation for stability is now in ruins.

It should be noted that one of the major left-wing complaints against the Pinochet constitution was that its electoral system encouraged a two-party or at least two-bloc system rather than making it easier for dozens of smaller parties to get representation. They argued this led the major alliances to both move towards the center, preventing change. The irony is that the fragmentation of the two alliances in Chile have destroyed the stability that allowed the country to prosper, arguably vindicating the vision behind that constitution.


On December 7, President Pedro Castillo, a former teacher who was elected president in 2021 as the candidate of a far-left party after its leader, Vladimir Cerron, a self-proclaimed Leninist, was barred from running, attempted to dissolve Congress. Castillo had been elected with a limited mandate, with his own party controlled by Cerron, and having won only 19% in the first round. He owed his victory in the second to facing Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former dictator whose brother was also suspected of drug trafficking. Even then, he won with just 50.13% of the vote, a miniscule margin. Much like Arce in Bolivia and Fernandez in Argentina, he rapidly began feuding with Cerron as well.

Faced with a Congress in which he had no base, Castillo sought to dissolve Congress against its will, and either rule by decree or force new elections in which he could use the power of the presidency to establish a political base of his own. Castillo’s effort was poorly planned, and he was denounced by his own prime minister and vice president, impeached by Congress by the lopsided margin of 101 to 6, and then arrested by his own bodyguard. He is currently in the same prison as Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father.

This was the start, not the end of Peru’s instability. As protests swept the largely indigenous areas where Castillo maintained some support, a power struggle erupted between the new president, Castillo’s former vice president Dina Boluarte, and Congress, both over control of the government and whether there would be new elections. Congress was itself divided, with pro-Fujimori deputies and Cerron allies calling for early elections they expected to do well in, and almost every faction in between opposing them.

The result has been to leave in power an unelected left-wing president despised by the left for betrayal, and a center-right Congress fearful of elections stuck with each other, while 38% of Peruvians state they favor a military coup. A belated compromise, made under the threat of violence, to allow for “early elections” in 2024 seems likely to appease no one. It will leave the sitting government lame-ducks for over a year without restoring legitimacy to anyone.

A right-wing military coup is a chimerical threat. But there is also a much more plausible disaster scenario. The unpopularity of the current president and Congress is a major source of instability, opening the way to a far-left revolution. Castillo was far from popular, but with 44% supporting his dissolution of Congress to 53% opposed, he maintains a solid base of support. Contrast that with the office’s new occupant, Bolaurte, who by a 71%-27% margin voters do not believe should have become president, and who only 13% say should remain president for the rest of Castillo’s term.

A restored Castillo government, whether through force or nominally democratic means, would almost surely be viewed as a vindication of their efforts to destroy Congress and the courts. In turn, the example of Bolivia stands out regarding the dangers of delaying elections too long when it is impossible to govern without them.

The United States is facing a serious threat in a collapsing Latin America. Both the Biden administration and future U.S. presidents need to re-learn the lessons of the past three decades, or else face a continent of failed states, aligned with our enemies, and an uncontrollable border crisis.

Originally published on AMAC.


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