Putting the people first: Left-turn in Latin America Politics by Charles Onunaiju

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Putting the people first: Left-turn in Latin America Politics by Charles Onunaiju

Mexican leader, President Andres Mannel Lopez Obraser, affectionately called AMLO by his initials is a veteran campaigner for the presidency and won in his third attempt in 2018. The United States of America, a giant neighbor of his country was not his fan and was never enthusiastic about his crave for his country’s top job. However, in spite of all that, he won with a huge margin, with his party, the Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA) having campaigned on a main agenda to strengthen the State against what he called economic injustice, to end corruption and impunity and transform the country on behalf of the poor and the marginalized.

His political odyssey and campaign themes share many similarities with president Buhari but it ends just their. President Obrador campaigned to end excessive presidential privileges like presidential jets, sprawling residential palaces, and huge pay perks.

On election to the presidency, he put up the presidential jets for sale and not finding a suitable buyer, he gave them out for rents. He flies commercial airlines on tourist tickets on rare trips outside Mexico. President Buhari who made similar offer to sell off presidential jets or give them to start off the National Air Carrier did none and is on global throttle for the flimsiest of reasons, including numerous personal medical trips.

On inauguration as president in December, 2018, AMLO turned the sprawling presidential palace into a museum, while moving into a small home in the capital city. The former symbol of power, and to many Mexicans, a monument of the excesses of the traditional Political elites was turned up for national tourist attraction, leaving ordinary citizens to gape out of the unbridled ostentations of those who claimed to serve them. In addition to the symbolic rejection of traditional elite’s allure of power, President Obrador  further cut his salary by 60%, insisting the country’s economically marginalized are too numerous and in dire stress to warrant excessive indulgence of the political class.

Since taking office at end the of 2018, Mexico has not become an el dorado but he has fostered a sense of economic justice, instituted a strong and credible State beyond the manipulation of few elites, providing core and key social services, ensuring transparency and rekindling hope in an inclusive, equalitarian society. He has largely reined in violent crimes not only by police and military order but by creating a social framework, where the social reserves for crimes are working in the main stream of civic production and engagement. President Obrador has raised the foreign policy profile of his country and no longer, tags along to the dictates to his country from its giant neighbor. Though physically in the North American continent compromising the U.S. and Canada, the political soul of Mexico is in South America. At a recent summit of the Americas, where Washington exercised its hegemony to exclude Cuba and Venezuela, President Obrador led Mexico to boycott it, denying any veneer of legitimacy to Washington’s arrogance to choose who belonged to the Americas.

Even on the conflict in Ukraine with Russia, AMLO questioned the moral depravity in the U.S and NATO to “supply the arms and Ukraine supply the dead”. Such is the solid left credential of a socialist AMLO that his country is returning to integrity and respectability since his victory in 2018.  And following in the trend of people’s power and left turn in Latin American politics, even the unexpected has happened.

Last month and after several decades, politics in Columbia, bastion of South America Right wing political sanctuary elected a former member of M19 leftist guerilla  to the presidency. Mr. Gustavo Petro, former mayor of the capital city, Bogota routed his conservative challenger and establishment candidate, Mr. Rodolfo Hernandez, a property tycoon by winning 50.4% of the vote in the second round. He will be inaugurated as Columbia’s president on the 7th of August. Pointing to the significance of the win, Mr. Petro said “we are writing a new history for a Columbia, Latin America and the world”, adding that the change we hope “to bring will open opportunity for all Columbians in every corner of the national territory”.

Even more significant to the Columbia’s make over and radical break from it’s traditional politics is the election of the vice president. A 40 year old black woman environmentalist, a single mother and former nanny, Ms Francia Marquez, made history as the first black person to attain such height in Columbian Politics. Columbia, whose long running right wing politics has bequeathed social exclusion and confrontation has long history of leftist insurgency and drug-fueled violence. FARC, one of the Latin America’s oldest leftist guerrillas that disarmed about five years ago to enter mainstream national politics, along with the M19 guerilla were backlashes of long running and simmering social exclusions.

Mr. Petro has the historic opportunity to reframe the social and national question in favor of broad inclusions that put the people first. Chile, another important country in the hemisphere last year caught the political bug of leftwing reinvention. The country after the bout of neo-liberal economics, elected its youngest President, former student union leader and 35 year old Mr. Gabriel Boric. As a left wing legislator, he cut his political teeth in student unionism and later as a member of the national assembly who backed anti-government protests of the market oriented economic model that supposedly drove up growth but widened inequality and deepened poverty among the majority of the people. On his campaign trail to the presidency he promised to bury the neo-liberal economic model left behind by the General Augusto Pinochet 1973 – 1990 dictatorship. He further pledged to raise taxes for the super rich, expand social services, rein in inequality and reclaim the social equalitarian legacy of the popular socialist President Allende Salvador, overthrown and murdered by General Augusta Pinochet in collusion with western intelligence services, most notably, the America CIA on 11th September, 1973.

Inacio Lulu da Silva who lifted out of poverty, 30 million Brazilians on his earlier tenure from 2003 to 2010, is set to return to office to recommence the social project of inclusion of the broad section of the Brazilian people.  Latest survey published in May found that 46% of voters said they will support Mr. Lula Da Silva while support for the incumbent President, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro is 32%. Mr. Da Silva, a former shoe shiner who became president from 2003 to 2010 under the platform of the Workers Party, advanced one of Latin America’s social progressive process and political inclusion, uniting his country of disparate racial composition and building a credible State with social integrity.

With an intense sense to rehabilitate lives and put the people first, Latin America leftist politicians with ideological clarity and profound purpose of social responsibilities is remaking the politics of the hemisphere essentially in reconstructing the State as the key instrument to dispense economic justice and drive social and political inclusion.

The political journey of social redemption in South America need to echo even more loudly in Africa and inspire a new direction imbued with originality and re-assessment of the political direction and economic model that must result with a thorough-going shake-up of the existing “thought infrastructure” in Africa, giving lease to new thinking in our clime. Africa’s social atrophy with the resultant deepening and widening poverty cannot support politics as usual , on a sustainable basis without the heavy costs of disruptions and conflicts that push societies to the brink.

 

Onunaiju is a Researcher and Director of an Abuja-based Think Tank

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