Pink tide

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Early Mercosur summit led by Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, Uruguay under the left-wing government of José Mujica, and the former left-wing governed states of Brazil and Argentina.

"Pink tide" (Spanish: marea rosa, Portuguese: onda rosa) and "turn to the left" (Spanish: giro a la izquierda, Portuguese: guinada à esquerda) are phrases used in contemporary 21st-century political analysis in the media and elsewhere to describe the revolutionary wave and perception of a turn towards left-wing governments in Latin American democracies straying away from the neoliberal economic model. The shift represented a move toward more progressive economic policies and coincides with a parallel trend of democratization of Latin America following decades of inequality.[1][2][3]

The Latin American countries viewed as part of this ideological trend have been referred to as "Pink Tide nations",[4] with the term post-neoliberalism being used to describe the movement as well.[5] Some pink tide governments, such as those of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela,[6] have been varyingly characterized as being anti-American,[7][8] populist[9][10][11][12][13] and authoritarian-leaning.[10][14]

The pink tide was followed by the conservative wave, a political phenomenon that emerged in the mid-2010s in South America as a direct reaction to the pink tide but saw a resurgence in 2018-2019 after successive electoral victories of left-wing candidates in Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.[15][16][17]


São Paulo Forum was founded by the former Chairman of Cuba Fidel Castro and the former President of Brazil Lula.

During the Cold War, a series of left-leaning governments attained power via electoral polls in Latin America. These governments faced coups sponsored[18][19][20][21] by the United States government as part of its geostrategic interest in the region. These included the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, 1973 Chilean coup d'état and 1976 Argentine coup d'état, among others. All of these coups were followed by United States-backed and sponsored right-wing military dictatorships as part of the United States government's Operation Condor.[19][20][21]

These authoritarian regimes committed several human rights violations including illegal detentions of political opponents, suspects of be one and/or their families, tortures, disappearances and child trafficking.[22][23] As these regimes started to decline due to international pressure, internal outcry in the United States from the population due to the involvement in the atrocities forced Washington to relinquish its support for them. New democratic processes began during the late 1970s and up to the early 1990s.[24]

With the exception of Costa Rica, essentially all Latin American countries had at least one experience with a United States-supported dictator:[25] Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the Somoza family in Nicaragua, Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala, Juan María Bordaberry in Uruguay, Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, François Duvalier in Haiti, Artur da Costa e Silva and his successor Emílio Garrastazu Médici in Brazil and Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, which caused a strong anti-American sentiment in wide sectors of the population.[26][27][28][29]


Rise of the left: 1990s and 2000s[edit]

Return of the peronist government in Argentina under kirchnerism by Cristina Kirchner alongside the Allende's Socialist Party led by Michelle Bachelet in Chile.

Following the third wave of democratization in the 1980s, the institutionalization of electoral competition in Latin America opened up the possibility for the left to ascend to power. For much of the region's history, formal electoral contestation excluded leftist movements, first through limited suffrage and later through military intervention and repression during the second half of the 20th century.[30] The collapse of the Soviet Union changed the geopolitical environment as many revolutionary movements vanished and the left embraced the core tenets of capitalism. As a result, the United States no longer perceived leftist governments as a security threat, creating a political opening for the left.[31]

In the 1990s, the left exploited this opportunity to solidify their base, run for local offices and gain experience governing on the local level. At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, the region's initial unsuccessful attempts with the neoliberal policies of privatization, cuts in social spending and foreign investment left many countries with high levels of unemployment, inflation and persistent inequality.[32] The left's social platforms, which were centered on economic change and redistributive policies, offered an attractive alternative that mobilized large sectors of the population across the region who voted leftist leaders into office.[33]

The pink tide was led by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who was elected into the presidency in 1998.[34] According to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a pink tide president herself, Chávez of Venezuela (inaugurated 1999), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil (inaugurated 2003) and Evo Morales of Bolivia (inaugurated 2006) were "the three musketeers" of the left in South America.[35] National policies among the left in Latin America are divided between the styles of Chávez and Lula as the latter not only focused on those affected by inequality, but also catered to private enterprises and global capital.[36]

Commodities boom and growth[edit]

Lula and Dilma Rousseff, former Brazilian presidents, are members of the socialist Workers' Party.

With the difficulties facing emerging markets across the world at the time, Latin Americans turned away from liberal economics and elected leftist leaders who had recently turned toward more democratic processes.[37] The popularity of such leftist governments relied upon by their ability to use the 2000s commodities boom to initiate populist policies,[38][39] such as those used by the Bolivarian government in Venezuela.[40] According to Daniel Lansberg, this resulted in "high public expectations in regard to continuing economic growth, subsidies, and social services".[39] With China becoming a more industrialized nation at the same time and requiring resources for its growing economy, it took advantage of the strained relations with the United States and partnered with the leftist governments in Latin America.[38][41] South America in particular initially saw a drop in inequality and a growth in its economy as a result of Chinese commodity trade.[41]

As the prices of commodities lowered into the 2010s, coupled with overspending with little savings by pink tide governments, policies became unsustainable and supporters became disenchanted, eventually leading to the rejection of leftist governments.[39][42] Analysts state that such unsustainable policies were more apparent in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela,[41][42] who received Chinese funds without any oversight.[41][43] As a result, some scholars have stated that the pink tide's rise and fall was "a byproduct of the commodity cycle's acceleration and decadence".[38]

End of commodity boom and decline: 2010s[edit]

Current leaders of ALBA: a Nicaraguan revolutionary Daniel Ortega, the second indigenous president of the Americas Evo Morales of Bolivia, Hugo Chávez's successor Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and the Chairman of Cuba Raúl Castro.

Chávez, who was seen as having "dreams of continental domination", was determined to be a threat to his own people according to Michael Reid in American magazine, Foreign Affairs, with his influence reaching a peak in 2007.[44] The interest in Chávez waned after his dependence on oil revenue led Venezuela into an economic crisis and as he grew increasingly authoritarian.[44] The death of Chávez in 2013 left the most radical wing without a clear leader as Nicolás Maduro did not have the international influence of his predecessor. By the mid-2010s, Chinese investment in Latin America had also begun to decline,[41] especially following the 2015–2016 Chinese stock market crash.

In 2015, the shift away from the left became more pronounced in Latin America, with The Economist saying the pink tide had ebbed[45] and Vice News stating that 2015 was "The Year the 'Pink Tide' Turned".[35] By 2016, the decline of the pink tide saw an emergence of a "new right" in Latin America,[46] with The New York Times stating "Latin America's leftist ramparts appear to be crumbling because of widespread corruption, a slowdown in China's economy and poor economic choices", with the newspaper elaborating that leftist leaders did not diversify economies, had unsustainable welfare policies and disregarded democratic behaviors.[47] In mid-2016, the Harvard International Review stated that "South America, a historical bastion of populism, has always had a penchant for the left, but the continent's predilection for unsustainable welfarism might be approaching a dramatic end".[6]

International policies[edit]

Some pink tide governments, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, allegedly ignored international sanctions against Iran, allowing the Iranian government access to funds bypassing sanctions as well as resources such as uranium for the Iranian nuclear program.[48]


On 12 July 2017, former Brazilian President Lula was convicted of money laundering and passive corruption, defined in Brazilian criminal law as the receipt of a bribe by a civil servant or government official. He was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison by judge Sérgio Moro.[49][50] Investigations later revealed that Lula pressured Odebrecht to pay millions of dollars toward the presidential campaign of the leftist Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.[51] On 7 April 2018, Lula turned himself in and began serving his jail sentence. On 9 June 2019, The Intercept released a trove of documents that showed Judge Sergio Moro acted politically in his ruling. Jair Bolsonaro later appointed him The Minister of Justice and Public Security.

In December 2017, Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas was removed from office and sentenced to six years in prison after being involved with receiving over $13.5 million in bribes during the Odebrecht scandal.[52]

Economy and social development[edit]

The most recent President of Mexico, a left-winger López Obrador elected in 2018.

Morales government was praised internationally for its reduction of poverty, economic growth[53] and the improvement of indigenous, women[54] and LGBTI rights[55] in the very traditionally-minded Bolivian society.

Before Lula's election, Brazil suffered from one of the highest rates of poverty in the Americas, with the infamous favelas known internationally for its levels of extreme poverty, malnutrition and health problems. Extreme poverty was also a problem in rural areas. During Lula's presidency several social programs like Zero Hunger (Fome Zero) were praised internationally for reducing hunger in Brazil,[56] poverty and inequality while also improving the health and education of the population.[56][57] Around 29 million people became middle class during Lula's eight years tenure.[57] During Lula's government, Brazil became an economic power and member of BRICS.[56][57] Lula ended his tenure with 80% approval ratings.[58]

Economist from the University of Illinois[59] Rafael Correa was elected as President of Ecuador in the 2006 presidential election following the harsh economic crisis and social turmoil that caused right-wing Lucio Gutiérrez resignation as President. Correa, a practicing Catholic influenced by liberation theology,[59] was pragmatic in his economical approach in a similar manner to Morales in Bolivia[34] and Ecuador soon experienced a non-precedent economic growth that bolstered Correa's popularity to the point that he was the most popular president of the Americas' for several years in a row,[59] with an approval rate between 60 and 85%.[60]

Lugo's government was praised for its social reforms, including investments in low-income housing,[61] the introduction of free treatment in public hospitals,[62][63] the introduction of cash transfers for Paraguay's most impoverished citizens[64] and indigenous rights.[65]

Some of the initial results after the first pink tide governments were elected in Latin America included a reduction in the income gap,[5] unemployment, extreme poverty,[5] malnutrition and hunger[2][66] and rapid increase in literacy.[2] The decrease in these indicators during the same period of time happened faster than in non-Pink Tide governments.[67]

Countries like Ecuador,[68][69] El Salvador, Nicaragua[70] and Costa Rica[71] experienced notable economic growth during this period whilst Bolivia and El Salvador both saw a notable reduction in poverty according to the World Bank.[72][73][improper synthesis?]

Economic hardships occurred in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela as oil and commodity prices declined and according to analysts because of their unsustainable policies.[41][42][74] In regard to the economic situation, President of Inter-American Dialogue Michael Shifter stated: "The United States–Cuban Thaw occurred with Cuba reapproaching the United States when Cuba's main international partner, Venezuela, began experiencing economic hardships".[75][76]

Political outcome[edit]

Following the initiation of the pink tide's policies, the relationship between both left-leaning and right-leaning governments and the public changed.[77] As leftist governments took power in the region, rising commodity prices funded their welfare policies, which lowered inequality and assisted indigenous rights.[77] The overspending of leftist governments in the 2000s resulted in the election of more liberal governments in the 2010s by citizens in the region seeking a sustainable economy, which required potential progressive politicians to reevaluate their policies.[77] However, such advancements changed the location of Latin America's center of the political spectrum,[78] forcing right-wing candidates and succeeding governments to adopt more socially-conscious administrations.[77]

Under the Obama admininstration, which held a less interventionist approach to the region after recognizing that interference would only boost the popularity of populist pink tide leaders like Chávez, Latin American approval of the United States began to improve as well.[79] By the mid-2010s, "negative views of China were widespread" due to the substandard conditions of Chinese goods, unjust professional actions, cultural differences, damage to the Latin American environment and perceptions of Chinese interventionism.[80]


During 2018 and 2019 two new countries entered the Pink Tide, Mexico with the electoral victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2018 Mexican general election and Laurentino Cortizo in the 2019 Panamanian general election, whilst incumbent right-wing president Mauricio Macri of Argentina loses against left-wing Peronista Alberto Fernández alongside Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as running mate in the 2019 Argentine general election and in Colombia the ruling right-wing party of President Iván Duque and Alvaro Uribe faced a notorious defeat at the 2019 regional elections.[81] A series of very violent protest against austerity measures and income inequality scattered throughout Latin America including the 2019 Chilean protests, 2018–19 Haitian protests and the 2019 Ecuadorian protests, whilst in Honduras, anti-government protest requesting the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernández for the accusations of narc connections against him also spread.

Use of the term[edit]

Countries in red indicate left-wing-led governments when the pink tide movement peaked in 2011.

The term "pink tide" had become prominent in contemporary discussion of Latin American politics in the early 21st century. Origins of the term may be linked to a statement by Larry Rohter, a New York Times reporter in Montevideo who characterized the 2004 presidential election of Tabaré Vázquez as leader of Uruguay as "not so much a red tide [...] as a pink one".[13] The term seems to be a play on words based on red tide (a biological phenomenon rather than a political one) with red – a color long associated with communism – being replaced with the lighter tone of pink to indicate the more moderate socialist ideas that gained strength.[82]

Despite the presence of a number of Latin American governments which professed to embracing a leftist ideology, it is difficult to categorize Latin American states "according to dominant political tendencies, like a red-blue post-electoral map of the United States".[82] According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a leftist think-tank based in Washington, D.C.:

While this political shift was difficult to quantify, its effects were widely noticed. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, 2006 meetings of the South American Summit of Nations and the Social Forum for the Integration of Peoples demonstrated that certain discussions that used to take place on the margins of the dominant discourse of neoliberalism, now moved to the center of public debate.[82]

In the 2011 book The Paradox of Democracy in Latin America: Ten Country Studies of Division and Resilience, Isbester states:


Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with the former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010.

In 2006, The Arizona Republic recognized the growing pink tide, stating: "A couple of decades ago, the region, long considered part of the United States' backyard, was basking in a resurgence of democracy, sending military despots back to their barracks", further recognizing the "disfavor" with the United States and the concerns of "a wave of nationalist, leftist leaders washing across Latin America in a 'pink tide'" among United States officials.[83]

A 2007 report from the Inter Press Service news agency said how "elections results in Latin America appear to have confirmed a left-wing populist and anti-U.S. trend – the so-called "pink tide" – which [...] poses serious threats to Washington's multibillion-dollar anti-drug effort in the Andes".[84]

In 2014, Albrecht Koschützke and Hajo Lanz, directors of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for Central America, discussed the "hope for greater social justice and a more participatory democracy" following the election of leftist leaders, though the foundation recognized that such elections "still do not mean a shift to the left", but that they are "the result of an ostensible loss of prestige from the right-wing parties that have traditionally ruled".[85]

Head of the states and governments[edit]


Below are left-wing and centre-left presidents elected in Latin America since 1995:

Note that centre-left presidents are marked with *.

** While Moreno was elected on the same left-wing platform as predecessor Correa, he gravitated towards the centre swiftly after winning the election.
Note that Venezuela is under a presidential crisis taking place with ‡.


The timeline shows periods where a left-wing leader governed over a particular country, beginning with Hugo Chávez in 1999:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lopes, Dawisson Belém; de Faria, Carlos Aurélio Pimenta (January–April 2016). "When Foreign Policy Meets Social Demands in Latin America". Contexto Internacional (Literature review). Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. 38 (1): 11–53. No matter the shades of pink in the Latin American 'pink tide', and recalling that political change was not the norm for the whole region during that period, there seems to be greater agreement when it comes to explaining its emergence. In terms of this canonical interpretation, the left turn should be understood as a feature of general redemocratisation in the region, which is widely regarded as an inevitable result of the high levels of inequality in the region.
  2. ^ a b c Abbott, Jared. "Will the Pink Tide Lift All Boats? Latin American Socialisms and Their Discontents". Archived from the original on 6 April 2017. Retrieved 5 April 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Oikonomakis, Leonidas. "Europe's pink tide? Heeding the Latin American experience". Retrieved 5 April 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "COHA Statement on the Ongoing Stress in Venezuela".
  5. ^ a b c Fernandes Pimenta, Gabriel; Casas V M Arantes, Pedro (2014). "Rethinking Integration in Latin America: The "Pink Tide" and the Post-Neoliberal Regionalism" (PDF). FLACSO. Retrieved 28 December 2017. In general, one must say that these governments have as defining common feature ample and generous social inclusion policies that link effectively for social investments that certainly had an impact on regional social indicators (LIMA apud SILVA, 2010a). In this sense, so far, all of these countries had positive improvements. As a result, it was observed the reduction in social inequality, as well as the reduction of poverty and other social problems (SILVA, 2010a)
  6. ^ a b Lopes, Arthur (Spring 2016). "¿Viva la Contrarrevolución? South America's Left Begins to Wave Goodbye". Harvard International Review. 37 (3): 12–14. South America, a historical bastion of populism, has always had a penchant for the left, but the continent's predilection for unsustainable welfarism might be approaching a dramatic end. ... This "pink tide" also included the rise of populist ideologies in some of these countries, such as Kirchnerismo in Argentina, Chavismo in Venezuela, and Lulopetismo in Brazil.
  7. ^ da Cruz, Jose de Arimateia (2015). "Strategic Insights: From Ideology to Geopolitics: Russian Interests in Latin America". Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe. Nova Science Publishers. 30 (1/2): 175–185.
  8. ^ Lopes, Dawisson Belém; de Faria, Carlos Aurélio Pimenta (Jan–Apr 2016). "When Foreign Policy Meets Social Demands in Latin America". Contexto Internacional (Literature review). Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. 38 (1): 11–53. ... one finds as many local left-leaning governments as there are countries making up the so-called left turn, because they emerged from distinct institutional settings ... espoused distinct degrees of anti-Americanism ...CS1 maint: date format (link)
  9. ^ Lopes, Dawisson Belém; de Faria, Carlos Aurélio Pimenta (Jan–Apr 2016). "When Foreign Policy Meets Social Demands in Latin America". Contexto Internacional (Literature review). Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. 38 (1): 11–53. The wrong left, by contrast, was said to be populist, old-fashioned, and irresponsible ...CS1 maint: date format (link)
  10. ^ a b Isbester, Katherine (2011). The Paradox of Democracy in Latin America: Ten Country Studies of Division and Resilience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. xiii. ISBN 978-1442601802. ... the populous of Latin America are voting in the Pink Tide governments that struggle with reform while being prone to populism and authoritarianism.
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  13. ^ a b "Latin America's 'pragmatic' pink tide" Archived 16 May 2016 at the Portuguese Web Archive Pittsburg Tribune-Herald.
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  41. ^ a b c d e f Reid, Michael (2015). "Obama and Latin America: A Promising Day in the Neighborhood". Foreign Affairs. 94 (5): 45–53. As China industrialized in the first decade of the century, its demand for raw materials rose, pushing up the prices of South American minerals, fuels, and oilseeds. From 2000 to 2013, Chinese trade with Latin America rocketed from $12 billion to over $275 billion. ... Its loans have helped sustain leftist governments pursuing otherwise unsustainable policies in Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela, whose leaders welcomed Chinese aid as an alternative to the strict conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund or the financial markets. ... The Chinese-fueled commodity boom, which ended only recently, lifted Latin America to new heights. The region – and especially South America – enjoyed faster economic growth, a steep fall in poverty, a decline in extreme income inequality, and a swelling of the middle class.
  42. ^ a b c "Americas Economy: Is the "Pink Tide" Turning?". The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd. 8 December 2015. In 2004-13 many pink tide countries benefited from strong economic growth, with exceptionally high commodities prices driving exports, owing to robust demand from China. These conditions brought regional growth ... However, the negative impact of expansionary policy on inflation, fiscal deficits and non-commodity exports in many countries soon began to prove that this boom period was unsustainable, even before international oil prices plummeted alongside prices of other key commodities at the end of 2014. ... These challenging economic conditions have exposed the negative consequences of years of policy mismanagement in various countries, most notably in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
  43. ^ Piccone, Ted (November 2016). "The Geopolitics of China's Rise in Latin America". Geoeconomics and Global Issues. Brookings Institution: 5–6. [China] promised to impose no political conditions on its economic and technical assistance, in contrast to the usual strings-attached approach from Washington, Europe, and the international financial institutions, and committed to debt cancellation 'as China's ability permits.' ... As one South American diplomat put it, given the choice between the onerous conditions of the neoliberal Washington consensus and the no-strings-attached largesse of the Chinese, elevating relations with Beijing was a no-brainer.
  44. ^ a b Reid, Michael (2015). "Obama and Latin America: A Promising Day in the Neighborhood". Foreign Affairs. 94 (5): 45–53. Washington's trade strategy was to contain Chávez and his dreams of continental domination ... the accurate assessment that Chávez was a threat to his own people. ... Chávez's regional influence peaked around 2007. His regime lost appeal because of its mounting authoritarianism and economic difficulties.
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