Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, left, with Argentine leader Alberto Fernández © TELAM/AFP via Getty Images

Bolivia’s official presidential election count was barely under way last week when Latin America’s leftist leaders celebrated the political comeback of a cherished icon — Evo Morales.

Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s president, invited the former Bolivian leader exiled in Buenos Aires to a celebration dinner on Monday last week. “He suffered a coup d’état, they destroyed his home and forced him to abandon the country,” Mr Fernández tweeted. “But the people never forget someone who never betrays them . . . Congratulations.” 

Mr Morales, who fled Bolivia last year amid protests against his attempts to engineer a fourth consecutive presidential term, was not running for president; victory went to his former finance minister Luis Arce and to their MAS party.

But the socialist leaders of the “Pink Tide” that swept Latin America in the early 2000s were in no doubt: after several years of market-friendly government, the region’s political currents are flowing their way again. 

“Long live the Great Homeland,” tweeted former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, deploying a popular Pink Tide-era moniker for Latin America unity. 

“Congratulations to #MAS, which has regained in the polls the power usurped by the oligarchy, in collusion with the OAS and under the guidance of the [US] empire,” crowed Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel. “The Bolivarian ideal is reborn.”

“Congratulations [Evo Morales], a great victory!” Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro chimed in.

The revitalisation of the Latin American left began last year when the Peronists returned in Argentina, ejecting business tycoon Mauricio Macri and propelling former Pink Tide leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner back to power as deputy to Mr Fernández. 

After Bolivia, three elections along the Andes next year will test the strength of the Socialist revival.

Ecuador holds its presidential vote in February: Andrés Arauz, the protégé of disgraced former leftist president Rafael Correa, is leading in the polls and establishment candidate Guillermo Lasso is struggling to distance himself from an unpopular conservative incumbent.

“Arauz has a very good shot at making it to the second round,” said Risa Grais-Targow, who leads coverage of Ecuador, Venezuela and Central America for Eurasia. “There are political parallels with Bolivia and Argentina.”

In Peru, which chooses a new leader in April, President Martín Vizcarra’s ratings have slumped after a Covid-19 lockdown devastated the economy and failed to prevent one of the world’s highest per capita death tolls. George Forsyth, a former national champion goalkeeper, reality TV contestant and mayor, leads opinion polls on the strength of his anti-crime record. 

In Chile, where elections will be held in November 2021, violent protests against inequality have restarted and the conservative president Sebastián Piñera’s ratings have slumped. Daniel Jadue, the 53-year-old communist mayor of a Santiago suburb who has pioneered “anti-privatisation” measures such as a people’s co-operative of pharmacies, is among the highest-polling potential contenders.

“I have a hard time thinking a communist will win in Chile,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America programme at the Wilson Center in Washington. But she added: “A younger-generation person has the best chance . . . and young people in Chile are certainly much more radical than the older generation.”

In an environment which favours populists as much as leftists, it was not clear who would benefit. “Regardless of who wins, the level of indebtedness is going to be a real constraint,” Ms Arnson added.

Is Mr Fernández uncorking the champagne in Argentina too soon?

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, thinks regional politics is more about punishing incumbents who fail to deliver in tough times. “If you don’t perform well and keep your promises, you’ll pay a price,” he said.

Even if socialists win forthcoming elections, he questions whether this would herald a new “Pink Tide” in Latin America. The coronavirus has devastated regional economies, the commodities boom has ended and government coffers are depleted. 

“The circumstances are totally different,” Mr Shifter said. “If Morales sees himself as a regional leader in the 2020s, he’s deluding himself . . . We’re in a different reality.”

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