With this month’s electoral result in Colombia, many in the developed world seem, once again, perplexed about Latin America.
For those of you who don’t know, Colombia felt for socialism – just like virtually all our nations these days in Latin America.
Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla member, beat the right-wing candidate Rodolfo Hernández by just over a percentage point.
With Petro as president, Colombia will officially join the club of Latin American nations with socialist administrations. This group includes Venezuela’s Maduro, Mexico’s Lopez Obrador, Argentina’s Fernandez, Peru’s Castillo, Chile’s Boric, and pretty much all of the region with notable exceptions.
For many in the U.S., Petro’s election comes as a surprise. In the region, Colombia seemed to be among the countries that better handled the health and economic consequences of the pandemic. Moreover, Colombia seemed to be establishing itself as a country with a somewhat predictable political establishment.
Colombia today is not the same country of the 1990s. While some credit President Uribe and others credit President Santos for this success, it is clear that on the economic and security fronts, Colombia is currently light years ahead of what it was a generation ago. Colombia is no longer a country governed by terrorist and mafia organizations.
So, why did Colombians elect Petro, a person completely distant from the same political establishment that brought peace to their nation?
I guess this is a question for a Colombian to answer. Nevertheless, this is also a question all of us in Latin America should ask ourselves. Because ultimately, this is not the first time something like this has happened in our region.
Venezuela, a generation ago, also voted for someone completely opposed to the same system that turned Venezuela into a relatively free and prosperous country. People tend to forget that Hugo Chavez did not rise to power through a coup. He was elected by the majority of my people.
This is also the case of Chile right now. In the last decades, Chile has become – by far – the most successful country in the region, according to most social and economic indicators. Chile’s poverty rate is less than 10 percent; it has a very low inflation rate, and it has an extreme poverty rate of just 2 percent. Despite all this, they elected Gabriel Boric as president – someone completely opposed to the Chilean economic model.
From these cases, analysts from developed countries tend to conclude that we Latin Americans are simply prone to believe and vote for socialist ideas. Whenever I hear this, I cannot hide my disappointment. Because just think about it, an answer like that is not only intellectually lazy and incredibly useless, but it is also politically dangerous.
If we accept the idea that our people are destined to vote for socialists, then that’s why many people on the right advocate for their own dictatorships. They say stuff like, “we need a Pinochet in our country,” arguing that citizens need “discipline and order.”
This is why I hate the “blame the people” reflex of our elites. I hate when policymakers blame the people for their bad policies, when presidents blame the people for their messy administrations, and when the elites blame the people for their lack of patriotism and national commitment.
If we want our nations to stop voting for socialists, then we (those who believe in freedom and democracy) have to step up our game. Those on the right have to stop blaming citizens for their own faults.
If Peruvians voted for Castillo, perhaps running Keiko Fujimori for the third time has something to do with it. If Argentinas voted for Fernandez, perhaps Macri’s economic mismanagement had something to do with it. And if Venezuelans voted for Chavez in 1998, perhaps all the political and economic mistakes of the establishment during the 1990s had something to do with it.
If we want nations committed to ideas like the rule of law, free market, and democratic governance, then we need to start communicating these ideas passionately. And even more importantly, we need to start implementing these ideas effectively – unlike most Latin American governments during the 1990s.
Only by doing this, we will bring lasting change to Latin America. Because our region does not need a time of changes, it needs a change of time. A new epoch to rediscover our national identities, political contracts, and development models.