Is ideology dead in Latin America?

There is no longer a strong unifying ideology in Latin America, writes guest blogger James Bosworth.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Michael Shifter quoted in the Washington Post on the problems of the hemisphere's "leftist" political movements:

"There’s really no sense of forward movement, there’s no sense of moving toward fulfilling some alternative vision and some utopian ideal," he said. "There is a sense of just stagnation and just trying to hold on to power, which is really not a very attractive leftist project."

I'm sure defenders of the various "leftist" presidents would disagree and claim that their respective revolutions are working towards that better vision. However, I agree with Shifter and find his comment here to be insightful. To the extent you can talk about these leaders as a unified group (and there are plenty of reasons that they are different in spite of the nationalization discussion), one common factor is that after years in power, all of these allegedly leftist leaders appear to be more focused on their own personal power than improving their countries or advancing a specific agenda. It's notable that not a single leader from this recent movement has groomed a successor who wasn't a family relation. I'd like to see someone like Presidents Morales or Correa prove me wrong on that and find a successor rather than run for office yet again, but it's not looking likely at the moment.

While the Post looks at the left, it's also worth looking at the other side of the political spectrum on this issue. The hemisphere's "rightist" politicians also don't seem to be moving towards some positive alternate vision of the future. In fact, Shifter's quote could just as easily apply to the right in the late 1990's. In recent elections, the right tends to win or runs their campaign under one of three conditions:

1) The left governs poorly.
2) The left can be portrayed as too extreme.
3) Security issues take center-stage.

Two of those are about being "anti-left" instead of for anything. The third is responding to a crisis in security, not providing a positive vision for the future. I'm sure the defenders of the right, like their counterparts on the left, would disagree and insist that they stand for an important vision (free trade, less regulations, etc.), but they're not winning elections on it.

What this really shows is that to the extent we can talk about left and right ideological movements in the hemisphere, both have lost a clear vision of their ideological path. It's for this reason that I often put the "left" and "right" terms into quotes. The media attempt to portray them as grand ideological movements. but there isn't really a unifying ideology. Both sides appear to be more about what they oppose than what they support. Both sides get a bit obsessed about maintaining power once in office. We should be discussing a vision for what a future ideological spectrum looks like beyond the personalities of today, but many of the politicians today seem determined to avoid that discussion.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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