Colombia and Brazil, key in a year in which the left of the region seeks to establish itself
RÍO DE JANEIRO.- Gabriel Boric’s victory in Chile inaugurated an election season in Latin America that will end at the end of this year with the fight for the presidency of Brazil. In his social networks, the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, today the favorite for the elections next October, celebrated the triumph of “another democratic and progressive candidate” in the region, “for the construction of a better future for all.”
The expectation of the Brazilian left is that in the May elections in Colombia the chosen one will be Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla who was already mayor of Bogotá and occupies a seat in the Senate, and who leads the polls with only five months to go until the first round. Boric awakened the expectation of a new progressive wave on the continent that, if it occurred, would strengthen the governments of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in Mexico; of Luis Arce, in Bolivia, and It would give a break to the questioned presidents Nicolás Maduro, of Venezuela, and Daniel Ortega, of Nicaragua.
In Brazil, the latest polls confirmed the general opinion among local analysts, who hold, without hesitation, that if the Brazilian elections were held today, the former president would return to the Planalto Palace. According to PoderData, Lula has between 40% and 48% of the voting intentions, against between 21% and 30% of President Jair Bolsonaro. None of the other candidates, not even the former judge and former Justice Minister Sergio Moro (between 6% and 9%), reach double digits. The governor of the state of São Paulo, João Doria, elected candidate of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, would obtain between 2% and 4%, according to the polls.
There are two very clear situations currently in Brazil: Lula is the one who has the best chance of winning the next election, and Bolsonaro, mainly because he failed to deliver good economic results to the Brazilian middle and lower class, runs the risk of becoming the first president who would not achieve a second term since there is reelection in the country (1998).
But there is also a lot of uncertainty and no one dares to assure or that the former president will win for sureNor that Bolsonaro is defeated. As Leo Barreto, director of the consulting firm Vector, explained to LA NACION, “what we are seeing is the start, not the finish.”
“Of course, today Lula would be elected president for the third time, but there are still many months to go and things may change,” said Barreto. For the expert, Boric’s triumph in Chile will not have much impact in Brazil, despite the expectation it generated among voters of Lula and the left in general. “What I see very clearly is a wave that is knocking down presidents seeking their re-election, because the pandemic generated an enormous level of social dissatisfaction. We saw it with [Donald] Trump in the United States and with the party of [Angela] Merkel in Germany. We see the difficulties you face [Emmanuel] Macron in France, and in Brazil it is no different. But it does not matter if one is from the right or from the left: the wave is against presidents and parties seeking to be reelected, “said the Brazilian analyst.
The opinion of Mauricio Santoro, Professor of International Relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), is different. “As important as Boric’s election was the defeat of José Antonio Kast, who is closely linked to Bolsonaro and has ties to the Brazilian presidential family. Many left-wing voters in Brazil felt what happened in Chile as the prelude to what will happen here, despite the enormous differences, to begin with generational, that exist between Lula and the president-elect of Chile, “he said.
Santoro, like many of his colleagues, believes that in Brazil the main stone in Bolsonaro’s shoe is the economy. With inflation above 10%, after many years of relative stability, rising unemployment, and economic activity not picking up as expected, the Brazilian president is running out of elements to run a successful campaign. Being the anti-PT candidate is no longer enough, although the feeling of rejection of Lula’s party, mainly due to the corruption scandals, is still very high in the country.
“Bolsonaro is experiencing his worst moment and in economic terms we are facing a very difficult scenario. Hunger stalks and among the poorest there is a very vivid memory that with Lula life was easier. In these sectors, the vote for the former president is strong. There is great expectation that with his return to power Brazil will be better, it will once again be a thriving and important country in and for the world ”, estimated Santoro.
The Brazilian president bet on Kast in Chile, and lost. Before he had bet on Trump in the United States (in the elections in which he was defeated by Joe Biden), and until today, as if he were an active militant of the former American president, supports anyone who wants to hear that his political ally was a victim of fraud.
Bolsonaro was left alone in the region and the only president with whom he has a minimum of contact is with Iván Duque, in Colombia, who is on his way out. If Petro were to win the Colombian elections (scheduled for May 29, with an eventual ballottage on June 19), it will be a severe setback for the Brazilian president, in the middle of his campaign for reelection.
On the other hand, for Lula, a Petro success would be a triumph loaded with symbolism, which would add to Boric’s feat in Chile.
The fight for the Colombian presidency, however, is much more complicated than the Brazilian one. Petro is first in the polls, but does not have the advantage that Lula consolidated in Brazil. The senator has a place almost guaranteed in the second round, but at that moment he will have to face a united center-right and right to prevent the left from coming to power.
Duque is not a popular president, but the Colombian economy is much better than the Brazilian one. There is still the ghost of Chavismo in neighboring Venezuela, fed by the main center-right candidates, including Oscar Iván Zuloaga, from the Democratic Center.
In interviews with local and international media, Zuloaga, the candidate of former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), never tires of saying that with Petro his country would end up transforming into a new Venezuela, a country that he defines as a criminal and mafia dictatorship. The leftist candidate promises a fairer Colombia, but is attacked by adversaries like Zuloaga, who permanently remind that Petro represents a threat to private property, among other rights. The connection between the senator and Chavismo is known, and that is his main Achilles heel.
Lula and Bolsonaro are attentive to what happens in Colombia, perhaps more the former president than his rival. For the president of Brazil, what happens outside the country was never of much interest, with the sole exception of Trump’s United States. Bolsonaro’s main strategy is to strengthen himself internally, distribute resources to those most in need and permanently remember the corruption scandals of the PT governments.
For analysts like Paulo Kramer, one of the most veteran of Brasilia, Bolsonaro is not at all liquidated. “The presidency is a powerful machine, which plays a very important role in an election. Nobody can explain to me why the supposedly so discredited president is received by crowds in the interior of the country. On the other hand, Lula participates in controlled events. It is clear that Lula’s game is to strengthen Moro, take votes from Bolsonaro and bet on winning in the first round. And that is so because Lula knows that in a possible second round he will be more vulnerable ”, argued the analyst.
Election campaigns in Colombia and Brazil will be two of the most important issues in the region this year, and what happens in the first may impact the second. Uncertain result in both, and huge expectations in both countries and throughout the continent.