The legal abortion law approved in Argentina on December 29 challenges the Latin American left. With the hegemony lost at the beginning of the century, when almost the entire continent was dominated by progressive governments, the few returns to power have been weighed down by the economic crisis and, now, the pandemic. The recovery of the agenda for social rights can now be the cement of a new epic and give oxygen to the left. From Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico, where the left or the proposals antiestablishment They have returned to power, going through the citizen insurrection movements in Chile and Peru and the attempts at alternative political construction in Brazil or Colombia, progressive projects seek the route that allows them to reverse the current conservative hegemony. The way is long. If we talk about legal abortion, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and French Guiana have advanced. And while the new law places Argentina at the forefront, countries like Mexico are, as a whole, still very far from it, despite the flags that Andrés Manuel López Obrador flies.
The Mexican president, who has received repeated criticism from the feminist movement, defended in the last press conference of the year that “power structures” should not intervene in decisions such as the regulation of the interruption of pregnancy, where, he said, “there are points of view for and against ”. His bet would be, in any case, to call a referendum. “The best thing is to consult citizens and, in this case, women. There are mechanisms to request a consultation ”. López Obrador thus avoids taking sides in this regard in a country where only Mexico City and the State of Oaxaca allow free abortion until week 12. His position is not, however, as blunt as that of other progressive Latin American leaders that they have not renounced traditionally conservative postulates on abortion. The Colombian opposition leader Gustavo Petro again stated this week that the way forward is not prohibition, but rather that education must be improved if a “society [con] zero abortion ”. Further, it was former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who threatened to resign if the Assembly approved the legalization. “I will never approve the decriminalization,” he settled at the beginning of his last term, in 2013.
It seems like a paradox, but his words resemble those spoken by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, a country that due to its weight can set the regional agenda and that has embraced conservative extremism. The Brazilian has also felt the shock wave that started in Buenos Aires. “As long as it depends on me and my government, abortion will never be approved on our soil,” the president wrote on Twitter. In Paraguay, Parliament held a minute of silence for “for the thousands of lives of Argentine brothers who will be lost before they are born.”
“We are aware that they are watching us,” says Vilma Ibarra, Legal and Technical Secretary of the Argentine presidency and promoter of the law on the termination of pregnancy approved in Congress. “Mostly women look at us. We embrace other experiences because we know that without them we cannot arrive. It was hard for Argentine women, but Spain, Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico City made the way for us. The good thing about these struggles is accompanying and transmitting experiences. Now we are going to be able to transmit experiences in the region, “says Ibarra in a conversation via Zoom with foreign correspondents.
The return of the progressive agenda in Argentina may stimulate similar movements in other countries. The Bolivian experience, with the triumph of Luis Arce a year after the early departure of Evo Morales, gave new impetus to the idea of return. But economic problems complicate expansion plans. The political cost of an adjustment can be too much. “On the right, the discourse of less state with fiscal adjustment is natural to it. But on the left, the promise of a more egalitarian society with more state, at a time with less money, fiscal adjustment and pandemic is more complicated. That raises the temptation to go to minorities, to an expanding civil rights agenda that is not just abortion. The indigenous idea expands, it returns to the long-term agenda of cultural reform of society ”, explains journalist and analyst Carlos Pagni, columnist for this newspaper on Latin American issues. It is a question, then, of rewriting the speeches, but without tripping over the stones that in the past kept her from power.
To these reflections are added the debates of a religious nature or related to the political influence of the churches that proliferate in America and that in some cases swell the ranks of the so-called left-wing parties-movements. “There is a tacit effort not to get into issues that could unleash the anger of evangelicals and Catholics, because there is a large part of the population that does not support certain agendas,” says Sergio Guzmán, director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy. “America has a religiosity rate between 60 and 70%, in Latin America there is more religious fervor. And the churches are being given a decisive role in political decisions on the continent. Pope Francis himself tried to mediate between Juan Manuel Santos and Álvaro Uribe regarding the peace process, ”he continues. The trend is not new, although today religious organizations are more fragmented. In Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN) is still active, a guerilla born in the early sixties with an ideological record that mixed Marxism and liberation theology. One of his parents was precisely the guerrilla priest Camilo Torres. And although this is an extreme case, it is significant that conservatism and machismo have also permeated the ideology of insurgent organizations, including the defunct FARC, for decades. Still today, regimes that call themselves revolutionary, that of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and that of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, have refused to legislate on abortion.
“The left has a tendency to give moral lessons”
Tatiana Roque is a professor in Mathematics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and was a candidate for deputy for the Brazilian PSOL, the formation that criticized Lula da Silva’s Workers Party on the left. Roque closely followed the discussion about legal abortion in Argentina. “The Argentine movement marks a new way of doing politics, of creating consensus in a society that urges the left to dialogue. The left has a tendency to point out, to accuse, to give moral lessons, and that alienates us from the people with whom we have to talk, people from the lower middle class or the poor. The abortion process in Argentina is in that sense a lesson, because negotiations were made with the most conservative sectors, ”he says. In this strategy of dialogue, Roque sees the seed of the reconstruction of a left that, he says, can no longer have the PT as a beacon or Lula as “the only one capable of articulating.”
Neither Argentina nor Bolivia have figures with the influence that Néstor Kirchner, Lula, Hugo Chávez, Pepe Mujica or Rafael Correa once had. Some have died or are retired from active politics, others are imprisoned for corruption or inhibited from participating in elections for similar reasons. For the Argentine sociologist Mario Santucho, director of the magazine Crisis and an expert in Latin American left-wing movements, this lack of references opens the door to new movements, more atomized but no less powerful. “Feminism in the region has no turning back. Although there has been a reaction from the churches, the sediment is that of a consolidation of these more advanced agendas, ”says Santucho. And he puts Chile as an example, where the discussion for a new Constitution is also a debate for the new values of democracy. “This is where civil rights come into play, advanced, which are not just rights in liberal terms,” he explains, “we are talking about a new idea of the social, of the human. That is the great challenge of the left: to combine a progressive and democratic way with the new discussions of the 21st century, together with the social rights that it has always defended ”.
Sergio Guzmán points out that it is precisely women who have taken the leadership of the agenda. “Progressive male politicians are very reluctant to lead the issue,” he says in reference to the specific case of abortion. “Progressive politics have no problem talking about freedoms and rights.” This year and 2022 they will redefine the map in countries such as Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, while Luis Arce, Morales’s heir, has just started his term in Bolivia. The American journalist Jon Lee Anderson, a deep connoisseur of the region, highlights the decadence of the left with revolutionary rhetoric that a decade ago embodied, above all, Hugo Chávez. This does not mean the death of progressive projects, but rather their obligation to adapt and reformulate themselves through a new path focused on public policies.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.