China and Russia want to ride the “pink tide” of Latin America. but it is not that simple
Conversely, China and Russia seem to be trying to make new inroads in Latin America, perhaps trying to ride this new trend.
In fact, questions about the new pink tide are more complicated. It is true that all its leaders define themselves as center-left or progressive and have much in common, even if the Mexican López Obrador stands out from the others for his authoritarian tendencies.
All of these moves and leaders are largely responses to the relatively poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that centrist or center-right incumbents in Latin America have suffered. They all have a strong social content, and populist too, in that they revive ancestral grievances against Latin American and foreign oligarchies; insist on giving priority to the poor; and taking many anti-extractive positions on natural resources, the environment, the rights of native peoples and cultural autonomy. And inevitably, if not in the minds of new or future leaders, at least in those of their supporters, a clearly anti-American stance is discernible.
But there are also significant differences between many of these governments and movements, as well as with the first pink wave and with the traditional autocratic and dictatorial left in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Despite their best intentions and the enthusiasm of their supporters, their victories do not guarantee radical social change. Every Latin American economy was hit by the 2020 recession; poverty and inequality have increased as a result; budget revenues have fallen as the economic recovery is taking longer than expected. It will not be easy to satisfy the demands of the streets and the voting booths.
Nevertheless, Latin America, with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, will not be a fertile hunting ground for China and Russia. And despite occasional anti-American rhetoric, most of these new leaders have been friends with the United States in the past or promised to be so in the future.
Indeed, at least when it comes to US President Joe Biden’s economic, social and environmental agenda, if not his actual achievements, there is a great affinity between the current administration in Washington and the perhaps misnamed pink new wave in Latin America.
If the Biden administration emphasizes this affinity and seeks common ground instead of resuming the war on drugs and declaring a new war on migration, this sea change in Latin America can become a great opportunity for United States.
That would be a more constructive way of looking at trends in Latin America, rather than over-interpreting state visits, speeches, and announcements that may never come true.