During the first decade of this century, two South American countries remained on the sidelines of the gradual transformations that were accompanied by the expansionary cycle of the economy, the commodity boom, the confluence of several left-wing regional leaders and the emergence of a post-liberal regionalism which benefited from the absence of a specific agenda of the United States.
These two countries were Colombia and Peru. Two countries with significant similarities over the past decades. So, after the end of the Cold War, they kept their armed conflicts in place while experiencing some of the continent’s most radical liberalization and openness policies. Likewise, they experienced a marked centralism which, for decades, led the economic and political elites of the big cities to live with their backs turned to the structural and institutional needs of a large part of the population.
Likewise, a decade before Colombia, Peru saw a significant weakening of its main violent actors, in large part thanks to the security policies of authoritarian rulers that have clouded the meaning of democracy and the rule of law.
In Peru, Alberto Fujimori, with completely dictatorial DNA, ended the country’s fragile democratic accord through a disturbing decade of government. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was the champion of the democratic security policy, on which rests an appalling alliance with the paramilitaries, at least until 2005, and the responsibility of more than 6,000 innocent people murdered by state agents , when they were “sold” to public opinion as drug traffickers “rightly rejected”.
On the other hand, both are among the most unequal countries in the region, with the highest vertical income inelasticity, accompanied by a social dimension of the state as precarious and commercialized as it is corrupt and inefficient. However, despite everything, they have remained as distinctly conservative systems, patrimonialized by elites who tend to regard the public sector as nothing more than a succulent cake in the service of their private interests, helping to eliminate any possibility of progressivism.
As a result of media manipulation that associates gun violence with social conflict and, therefore, on the left, it has long been common to find a deep stigma attached to any sign of social protest. In Peru, this is commonly called “terruco”. In Colombia, it is called “mamerto”.
In any case, under these circumstances, it is surprising that, until the second round of the presidential election in Peru, the candidate with the highest percentage of votes estimated at that time is José Pedro Castillo. Something similar is happening in neighboring Colombia, where the most popular candidate for next year’s elections is leftist leader Gustavo Petro.
It is true that both, in reality, represent two very different lefts (I clearly prefer the Colombian), with little comparable social, cultural and territorial roots. However, the two phenomena are inspired by a very similar recent history, which has been modulated in recent years. For this, we must not forget that before the pandemic, in both countries, but also in others, such as Ecuador or Chile, the year 2019 ended marked by street protests and the dissatisfaction of citizens.
In addition, the pandemic has exposed precarious and insufficient social programs that have accumulated decades of centralism and privatization. In a longer cycle, the left freed itself, in the case of Colombia more than in Peru, of the heavy burden of the synonym of violence, which freed up new politico-ideological spaces. In other words, the electoral agenda does not revolve around the country’s main decision-making centers or the exclusive need for strong states in terms of security.
In this way, territorial decentralization, regional autonomy, health, employment and education refer to a nuclear space which favors conflicts on the left / right axis in terms that are difficult to compare with the recent past of the two countries.
In any case, it is possible that in neither case the rule on the left is. In Peru, it remains to be seen how Fujimorismo can promote greater electoral mobilization and what role Lima will play in this regard, whose candidate, Hernando de Soto, has been largely overtaken by Fujimori and Castillo. On the other hand, the electoral support for the “Colombia Humana” project is so captive of the rejection generated by Gustavo Petro in much of the Colombian imagination, it will therefore be necessary to see how the most centrist spaces, like Alianza Verde, are positioned to the right of the former mayor of Bogotá.
In conclusion, these events justify the search for new analyzes of political science to study these more immediate factors and these long-term variables mentioned in these lines. So far, they have served to partly explain why the two countries have experienced a lack of progressive numbers in recent decades. Today, new approaches must shed light on a socio-political and territorial situation plunged into a process of change.
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