New Agrarian Democracies: The Pink Tide’s Lost Opportunity

Leandro Vergara-Camus, Cristobal Kay


With the electoral defeat of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in December 2015 in Argentina, the removal from power of President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 in Brazil, and the debacle that has unfolded since the death of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the latest cycle of left-wing politics has come to an end in Latin America.  What crumbles with the cresting of the ‘pink tide’ is a particular way of bringing together social movements and political parties, which never really shook off the remnants of populist and clientelist forms of mobilizing, organizing, and representing the popular classes. In this essay, we will look back at the new types of rural democracy that rural workers, peasant and indigenous movements were developing in the 1990s while they were struggling against neoliberal policies in order to assess what was achieved under left-wing governments. We use the term ‘new agrarian democracies’ as an umbrella under which we place their different projects to radically transform the countryside, as well as the actual way in which they began to organize decision-making in the communities under their influence.

Against this backdrop, we will critically analyze the main agrarian policies of the ‘pink tide’ governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as Brazil. Through this analysis we seek to contribute to strategic discussions in the Socialist Register regarding the relationship between social movements and political parties in projects for radical social change, and the importance of the democratic transformation of the state in this process.  Our main argument is that overall, even if they improved the living and working conditions of subaltern rural classes, these governments did not modify the pro-agribusiness model of rural development. Following the policies of their neoliberal predecessors, they continued to support large-scale export farming and did little, if anything, to roll back the growing control by agribusiness of the different stages of agricultural production. To be sure, they created or expanded policies supporting small-scale producers and introduced measures to improve living and working conditions of rural labourers. But with the partial exceptions of Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela, these governments did not carry out redistributive land reforms that would have tackled the historic unequal distribution of land in the region.  As this essay shall show, in failing to alter the unequal distribution of land and create new economic and societal forms in the countryside, pink tide governments not only missed a valuable opportunity to begin the construction of new agrarian democracies in Latin America, but also facilitated the development of the powerful 'coalesced bourgeoisies' that opposed it.

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