A new 'pink tide' in Latin America?

Image: Aldiyar Seitkassymov


Careful analysis is needed about the possibility of another progressive wave in Latin America

The simultaneous existence of centre-left governments in several Latin American countries during the first decade of the XNUMXst century has been described by academics and journalists as a 'pink tide' in the region.[I] The rapid diffusion of a concept like this, however, did not help to adequately understand the complexity of such political experiences and did little to prevent almost all of these governments from being swept away by a wave of conservative and neoliberal forces in the following decade.

Today, at the dawn of the third decade of the same century, the theme returns to the surface with the elections of Luis Arce in Bolivia, Gabriel Boric in Chile, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, in addition to the good electoral chances of Lula da Silva, in Brazil; not to mention the existing governments of López Obrador in Mexico and Alberto Fernández in Argentina. The metaphor of the tides, therefore, suggests that after the 'conservative wave', allegedly in ebb, it would be the turn of a new progressive wave in the region.[ii]

Such an analytical scheme has great appeal mainly because of its simplicity. After all, the automatism of the movement of waves and tides makes it possible to avoid more complex analyzes or ask disconcerting questions and even confers a certain power of prediction to those who use it. Proponents of so-called modernization theory are well aware of this, as illustrated by Samuel Huntington's classic article on the “third wave” of democracy in the XNUMXth century, in which a wave of democratization is always followed by an authoritarian tide and vice versa.[iii]

A theoretical framework, therefore, rigid, predetermined and teleological, in which it is enough to fit the observed experiences into categories defined as stages of development, whether economic or political. The question is whether this type of approach really provides the explanations we need about the phenomena in question and, mainly: would the normative posture that emerges from its use be the most desirable one – especially from a sympathetic point of view to the political forces in question?

The answer to both questions seems to be negative. The ability to forecast may even exist without an adequate explanation (it is enough to observe regularities), but those who practice it will be unable to interfere in reality effectively (no matter how good their intentions are) if they remain hostage to analytical traps whose consequences transcend, greatly, purely academic or conceptual debates.

First, the chromatic metaphor carries with it inevitable gender connotations. In order to differentiate such reformist governments from revolutionary, 'red' ones such as Cuba and Venezuela (Nicaragua's place in this palette is uncertain), a diluted version of the color rubra was then used, hence the 'pink'. It is clear how certain social constructions of gender and sexuality translate into the semantic load embedded in this formulation: the 'pink' governments would be more delicate, or effeminate, than the hard, really 'red' governments in the region.

In fact, a feminist analysis would be welcome in relation to the constructions of militarized masculinities (in the clothing itself) around the revolutionary figures of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez (not to mention the hypersexualized image of Che Guevara or the search for the 'new socialist man). But that's not what we get from those who employ the 'pink tide' concept. On the contrary, the patriarchal imagery is reaffirmed and even normalized in such uses, which is a problem especially in Latin America, where the male figure is so expressive that the expression machismo was even adopted in other languages ​​where such a word did not exist. A macho culture is therefore one of the export products of Our America also, a reality that should serve as a warning for the conceptual production located in the region.

Furthermore, the chromatic metaphor hides and silences a series of political struggles and power relations that previous concepts and categories forcibly brought to the debate: when characterizing a given government as 'popular' or, differently, as 'populist', it inevitably touches on it. if in fundamental characteristics of such experiences, something that pure chromaticism allows to ignore.[iv] The same is true for notions such as the liberal or oligarchic state; socialism; capitalism; fascism, racism, colonialism… all overshadowed as if their explanatory power were lesser in the face of colors and tides.

Although colors are part of political life – this is undeniable – reducing the analytical gaze to this point brings undesired consequences for those who recognize themselves as 'left-wing' or who intend to transform society in 'emancipatory' and 'progressive' directions: categories that nor are they devoid of problems, but which necessarily invite deeper reflection on their political content. In short, in general, the notion of 'pink tide' depoliticizes rather than politicizes public debate.

Fortunately, Latin American social thought has a rich repertoire of explanatory theories and concepts built over two centuries of independent intellectual life and which remain relevant despite passing academic fads. For example, to understand the cyclical fluctuations of Latin American economies and their political consequences, the teachings of Raúl Prebisch and the tradition cepaline remain useful.

The 'deterioration in terms of trade' between 'center and periphery' is illustrated by a well-known anecdote involving Raúl Prebisch himself, when he was still president of the Argentine Central Bank, in the 1940s. He lamented the arrogance of President Juan Domingo Perón, who he said “it is not possible to walk through the corridors of that institution due to the amount of gold bars obstructing the way” – something that Raúl Prebisch knew would be temporary if a structural transformation in the international division of labor was not carried out urgently. Perón fired Raúl Prebisch (who would then work at ECLAC), but the general learned his lesson more drastically, when the end of the economic bonanza coincided with his forced removal (for 20 years) from power – and even from the country.[v]

In turn, the so-called Theories of dependency also contributed – and contribute – to shed light on the movement of the tides and waves faced by progressive governments in the region. Although there is much diversity among dependentistas,[vi] a well-known thesis of this school concerns disillusionment with modernization in general and with industrialization in particular. As Raúl Prebisch had already advanced, without, however, exploring all the consequences of this perception, underdevelopment is no longer seen as a function of the supposed 'backwardness' of these social formations, but rather as a historical result produced by dependency relations, from the it was colonial. Relationships that are reproduced and updated even when there are modernizing changes in the productive matrix of each country.[vii]

Simple modernization cannot, therefore, be the solution to 'dependent development', a conclusion that the Marxist branch of this school tends to emphasize, since the development in question is capitalist development, which progresses producing inequalities – it generates wealth and poverty, simultaneously – especially in the social conditions of 'overexploitation' of Latin American dependent capitalism.[viii] By betting on this path, such governments show their properly progressive ideology, that is, of improvement and progress of local capitalism, which invariably creates the conditions for their own downfall by the social forces that benefit most from this same development: the capitalists.[ix]

It is precisely this contradictory dynamic – or dialectic, as you prefer – that must be explained: why such progressive, center-left experiences (or 'roses') end up producing, as Karl Marx would say about the European bourgeoisie, its gravediggers themselves? A clue had already been offered by the sociological theses of 'internal colonialism', by Pablo Casanova and Rodolfo Stevanhagen, since the 1970s.[X] Thinking from Mexico, but with a continental reach, they suggested that the elites that benefit from economic growth would have a character that is alien to the rest of their societies, behaving like true colonial metropolises within their own country. It is not surprising that projects with an anti-imperialist veneer, or even the national-developmentalism of progressive governments, tend to generate deep reactions in this type of elite, no matter how much they enjoy economic gains during progressive tides.

More recently, the analytical path opened around the idea of ​​“coloniality of power” also sheds light on this point when it reveals deep skepticism in relation to the type of democracy (and State-society relationship, therefore) possible to be constructed while the forms of classification social status and distribution of power inherited from the colonial period were maintained – for example, racial classification as a criterion for accessing the world of public authority and privileged forms of production and reproduction of material and cultural life. From this perspective, the intermittence of progressive governments cannot be seen as a simple wave – the work of nature or mechanical forces – but as an expected process in the face of the Eurocentrism prevailing in Latin American mentalities, especially among the elites, but also instilled, with a lot of effort, it is true, among the popular sectors themselves.

Aníbal Quijano, for example, when analyzing the first electoral victory of Evo Morales, in Bolivia, in 2005, had already foreseen great difficulties for social movements, especially those decolonizing by their very nature – such as the 'indigenous' – when they had to act in a context where even the State and the Nation itself always seem to be incomplete, since they are compromised by “coloniality” (in force even when there are momentary victories of progressive forces; but, as is obvious, more sharply felt under neoliberal and conservative elites).[xi]

Once again, given this theoretical arsenal, it is not surprising that the transformation strategies based on the state-electoral path have been reversed, even when successful (or precisely because they were) in distributing, albeit to a limited degree, incomes, rights and hopes to those who, historically, have never had access to any of this.[xii]

Thus, the recurring crises of success of progressive Latin American governments can be analyzed from different perspectives, many of which are complementary, others not so much, offered by the vast Latin American social thought, in different generations. But the use of one or another approach implies strengthening, or weakening, different political projects.

Concepts and explanatory categories are never neutral, nor devoid of limitations. So that the praxiological horizon is not limited to the mere prediction of yet another progressive wave in Latin America, whose announced end will seem certain in advance, and so that we are, therefore, workers of epistemic tools capable of transforming (and not just describing) reality social, it is necessary to be attentive (and strong) to words, political projects, ideologies and social forces on each occasion, something that waves and colors are not always able to capture with due precision.

Miguel Borba de Sa Professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra.



[I] See Panizza, F. “La Marea Rosa”. South American Political Observatory, no. 8, August 2006.

[ii] Francisco Panizza's (2006:15) analyzes are, in general, more sophisticated than what the subsequent dissemination of the concept came to produce, which does not exempt him from disseminating analytical schemes given such uses, especially by liberal political agendas that seek to tame leftist experiences in the governments in question – keeping them within the confines of the “post Washington Consensus” – so that they avoid being confused with the “surviving tropical authoritarianisms: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua”, as articulated by an influential prophet of a 'new pink tide' in Latin America. Cf. Casteñeda, J. “Llega uma nueva versión de la marea rosa: um giro a la izquierda” (CNN Spanish, July 29, 2021, SP), available at:


[iii] Huntington, S. “Democracy's Third Wave”. Journal of Democracy, vol. 2, n.2, spring 1991.

[iv] Again, this is not the case of Panizza (2006), but his distinction between 'populists' and 'social democrats', although not explicitly, reveals a certain preference for the political agenda of the latter, which calls attention to the need for caution in his thoughtless employment, given that it is not a politically neutral operation.

[v] Cf. Vasconi, TA Big capital and militarization in Latin America. Mexico DF: Ediciones Era, 1978, p. 85.

[vi] On the internal divisions of Dependency Theories, Cf. Iani, O. Sociology of Latin American Sociology. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Brazilian Civilization, 1971 (ch. VIII). For a dependentista critique of the 'pink tide', cf. Prado, F.; Meireles, M. “Marxist Theory of Dependency Revisited: Elements for the Critique of New Developmentalism by Current Center-Left Latin American Governments”. In: Castelo, R. (org.). Crossroads of Latin America in the XNUMXst Century. Rio de Janeiro: Bread and Roses, 2010.

[vii] See Santos, T. “The Structure of Dependence”. The American Economic Review, vol. 60, n.2, 1970.

[viii] Cf. Marini, RM Underdevelopment and revolution. 4th ed. Florianópolis: Ed. Insular/IELA, 2013.

[ix] Although his Marxism is heterodox in many senses, Álvaro Garcia Linera's formulations on “Andean-Amazonian capitalism” as an immediate horizon of aspiration for the Socialism Movement Bolivian government revealed a staged content even before Evo Morales (and Álvaro, as vice-president) arrived at the Quemado Palace. Cf. Garcia Linera, “The Andean-Amazon Capitalism”, The Diplomatic World - Chile, January of 2006.

[X] Cf. González Casanova, P. “Internal colonialism (una redefinición)”. In: Borón, A. et al. (Org.). Today's Marxist theory: problems and perspectives. Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2006.

[xi] Cf. Quijano, A. “State-nation and indigenous movements in the Andean region: open questions”. Social Observatory of Latin America, year VI, n. January 19, 2006. Also available at: http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/osal/20110327050057/02Quijan.pdf (Accessed in April, 2022).

[xii] On the other hand, Casteñeda's analysis (2021) considers – quite in line with the hegemonic liberal view – that, in reality, the failure of the first 'pink tide' of the century would have occurred due to three other factors: corruption; authoritarianisms; and unnecessary enmity towards the United States.

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