Lula’s Comeback Campaign: The Stakes for Brazil—and Democracy

The anticipated announcement, on July 21, of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidential run as the Workers’ Party candidate for the October elections in Brazil foretells a key return to the global chessboard. Lula, who currently leads incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by more than 20 points in opinion polls, consolidated the first wave of the Latin American Pink Tide after a watershed electoral win in 2003. His comeback in 2022 promises to set off a second surge on a whole new scale, with the momentum to reaffirm past gains and expand in new directions.

“When the first wave of integration happened, the Pink Tide was very pluralistic,” says Celso Amorim, Lula’s former chancellor and his closest political adviser.

“[Twelve years ago], you had Chávez on the one hand, but you had Uribe on the other,” he explains. The election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998 initiated the first Latin American leftward shift in this century, with Brazil (2003), Argentina (2003), Bolivia (2006), and Ecuador (2007) aligning in due course. At the time, however, several key states stood firm in their neoliberal retrenchment, particularly Colombia under Álvaro Uribe. Following a regional conservative backlash in the mid-2010s, signs of a reemerging Pink Tide started to show with the election of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2018.

“Yes, [back then] there were some governments of a progressive nature in a certain number of countries. But I think that if Lula wins in October, it will be a big change, because now you have not only a majority [of progressive governments in the region] but also the largest countries in Latin America in general, and in South America in particular, sharing progressive views.”

After Bolsonaro’s declarations last month, when he cast doubt on the security of the country’s electronic voting process, Amorim anticipates that the Brazilian right will do as much as it can to cling to power. Lula’s return would deliver a hard blow not only to Bolsonaro’s personal ambitions but also to neoliberalism and market capitalism in the subcontinent.

If Lula wins, he will join growing progressive group of Latin American presidents that includes Alberto Fernández in Argentina (2019), Luis Arce in Bolivia (2020), Pedro Castillo in Peru (2021), Gabriel Boric in Chile (2021), Xiomara Castro in Honduras (2022), and recently Gustavo Petro, the first left-leaning president in Colombia’s history, who will take office on August 7. Lula will not only consolidate a regional mandate in favor of wealth distribution, social assistance, and climate policy above fiscal austerity and blind compliance with the IMF. He will also revive a diplomatic approach based on multilateralism and nonalignment, backed by a global heavyweight, as a counterbalance to the new cold war between the United States and China.

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