Mauricio Macri has just pulled off an inspired win in Argentina.
While complete results are not yet available, it is clear that today Argentines gave the center right candidate an historic victory, and put an end to twelve raucous years of populist Kirchner rule.
This election marks a turning point in Latin America, because for the first time, the left in the region is paying for the economic havoc that they created.
All across the region, voters are tired.
They are tired of a stalling economy, of creeping inflation, and of rampant corruption. But more than that, they are tired of a model that promised to include them, but instead squandered a once-in-a-generation commodities boom, leaving their hopes dashed.
The left in Latin America enjoyed a golden age during the 00s. The commodities boom coincided with their rise to power, and the boom was translated into increased standards of living. Gullible voters somehow believed the Lulas, Kirchners, Chávezes and Correas of the world, and thought – I’m doing well, it’s probably thanks to them.
But while the leftist model had its achievements, now we realize it was a huge wasted opportunity. It may take a generation until we see another chance like this.
What many are now realizing is that it was all an illusion. Many Brazilians who lept to the middle class are close to going back into poverty now that their country’s economy is shrinking. Argentines are facing an enormous budget deficit and double-digit inflation. Ecuador is close to a balance-of-payments crisis. And let’s not even discuss Venezuela.
A few days ago, Rodrigo Linares came to my house for lunch, and over an actual sobremesa we discussed whether or not Hugo Chávez was in fact a leftist. Rodrigo, speaking from an apparent sympathy for the left, simply framed him as a failed authoritarian, but I was adamant (shocked, even) that this was even a debate.
Of course he was a leftist, a leftist through and through. Chávez’s failure, Lula’s debacle, Dilma’s dysfunction, Cristina’s unraveling, Correa’s sputtering … is the legacy of the left. That is something every sympathiser of the left – even moderate versions such as those of Lula or Bachelet – will have to come to terms with.
But while the leftist model had its achievements, now we realize it was a huge wasted opportunity.
Mauricio Macri did not frame this struggle as left versus right, but that is beside the point. The true indictment here is not against the Kirchners themselves, but against an ideology and a form of government that has simply not delivered.
When the 90s ended, the “neoliberal” governments were blamed for our economic shortcomings, and with good reason. The Washington Consensus did not deliver all it promised, and voters were probably right in giving them the boot.
Now, after squandering the boom, the “progressives” deserve to be taken to task. Voters across the region should hold them accountable, and should send them into political wilderness.
Let’s hope the Macri win is the beginning of payback for the region’s “progressive” brand of politics.