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Leftists Keep Arising in Latin America Because Conservatives Are Just Dumb Enough

LENINIST-TRUMPIST? Peruvian presidential front-runner and socialist Pedro Castillo at campaign rally last month.
LENINIST-TRUMPIST? Peruvian presidential front-runner and socialist Pedro Castillo at campaign rally last month.

COMMENTARY Socialists, a communist, a former guerrilla are presidential front-runners in South America thanks to conservative negligence and folly.

Here’s a question for South Florida’s Colombian diaspora:

Why would left-wing Colombian senator and presidential hopeful Gustavo Petro have wanted to ignite the violence we’ve seen in some of the protests rocking his country right now — as so many expats here insist he did — when a poll released just days before the unrest began showed him with a gaping lead in next year’s election? Almost 25 points ahead of his nearest competitor.

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Seems to me not even an erratic former guerrilla like Petro could be that dumb. Dumb enough to call lefty twenty-somethings into the streets to torch police stations and block major traffic arteries — dumb enough, in other words, to alienate the ample bloc of moderate voters who make a poll advantage like his possible.

The diaspora has no rational answer for that question because it’s simply not true that Petro masterminded these past three weeks of Colombian chaos. If anything, Petro — admittedly uncharacteristically — has been a voice of calm, telling protesters early on: “The police aren’t the enemy.” Yet many if not most Colombian expats here see Petro’s bespectacled face grinning sinisterly behind every Molotov cocktail and street barricade.

READ MORE: Dear Uribistas: Colombia's Problem Right Now Isn't the FARC - It's You

They also saw Petro lurking behind Joe Biden’s presidential campaign last year because Petro remarked that if were an American, he’d vote for Biden. That endorsement opened the MAGA barn door to absurd but flammable charges that Biden was a “socialista” and cost Biden even more Latino votes in Florida. (Petro was dumb enough to do that.)

What those particular expats refuse to see, however, is the reason Petro was so far out in front of Colombia’s presidential pack even before the demonstrations started. It was because most Colombians were fed up with a conservative government that spends more time and effort trying to annul the 2016 peace accords that ended their country’s half-century-long civil war, and too little trying to implement the socio-economic reforms those accords called for to fix Colombia’s appalling inequality. That is, to stave off future civil wars.

Latin America's leftists don't just arise again and again out of thin air. It happens because Latin America's conservatives are dumb enough to make it happen – again and again.

Colombia’s presidential election is still more than a year away. But in less than a month Peru is holding a presidential runoff election that another left-winger – a rural schoolteacher named Pedro Castillo of the socialist Free Peru Party – looks poised to win. The reasons are the same as Colombia’s: the negligence and corruption of a governing class that never fails to blame the rise of leftism in its midst on everything except its own negligence and corruption.


Castillo, the son of illiterate campesinos, was a teacher’s union leader when the COVID-19 pandemic began ravaging Peru last year. As he watched government officials do next to nothing to help students like his get the remote learning they needed, he jumped into the presidential race – and became a lightning rod for the disgust most Peruvians feel for their ultra-crooked, ultra-dysfunctional governance, which has witnessed four presidents in the past five years.

Not that Castillo would improve things as the fifth. If he wins on June 6, he’ll probably make them worse. He’s a lose-lose hybrid of Leninist economic policies and Trumpian social positions — you could call his Andean ethno-nationalism a Peruvian MAGA — and his party’s platform trashes the free press.

INFURIATING INEQUALITY Protesters block an intersection in Bogota, Colombia, last week.
Ivan Valencia
Protesters block an intersection in Bogota, Colombia, this month.

But all Frankensteins have creators — and Castillo’s are Peruvian leaders like Rafael López Aliaga, a conservative business tycoon who finished third in the election’s first round in April and is not a candidate in the runoff. López has been a target of tax-evasion and money-laundering investigations at home and abroad (he denies any wrongdoing) and he did his dimwitted best recently to stoke sympathy for Castillo by hurling a public death threat at a rally for runoff contender Keiko Fujimori:

“Death to communism!” López screamed. “Death to Castillo!”

Next door in Chile, that sort of Latin American right-wing genius now has communist Daniel Jadue sitting atop polls for November’s presidential election. Chile’s conservative government also ignored socio-economic inequality and got hammered for it last weekend when leftists won the lion’s share of seats for a convention to draft the country’s new Constitution.

Those Latin American leftists don't just arise again and again out of thin air. It happens because Latin America’s conservatives are dumb enough to make it happen — again and again.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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