Mabini Dialogue Examines the Role of
Left-Leaning Governments in Latin America

Ms. Rowena Layador, CIRSS Head, awards the certificate of appreciation to Prof. Aries Arugay
Ms. Rowena Layador, CIRSS Head, awards the certificate of appreciation to Prof. Aries Arugay

The Foreign Service Institute recently hosted a Mabini Dialogue Series lecture entitled “What’s Left?: Political Change in Latin America and Implications for Philippine Foreign Policy.” Dr. Aries Arugay, Associate Professor from the Political Science Department of the University of the Philippines, served as the guest speaker for the forum.

In his presentation, Dr. Arugay principally focused on the rise of the Pink Tide – left-leaning governments that emerged in the region since the late 1990s, so called because of their more moderate strand of communism and socialism. The end of the Cold War, neoliberal economic reform, democratization, emergence of new political actors, the rise of the democratic left, and political decay contributed to the rise of the Pink Tide. During this time, civil groups felt that they lost their voice with the demise of the trade unions. The end of dictatorship opened the democratic space but political actors remained elitist. Left-leaning groups offered an alternative for the cadre system and political elites. In addition, Leftist leaders opened the constitution to popular process. They implemented constitutional overhaul to empower the state in the economy, increase executive power, promote indigenous/popular rights, introduce social policies (i.e. divorce, same sex marriage), redistribute wealth, and popularize democracy.

In terms of effectivity, Left-leaning governments have done well in reducing inequality. Poverty was also reduced by half but this cannot be solely attributed to Leftist policies. Leftist leaders also increased health and education budgets and put emphasis on basic education and poverty alleviation programs. To this end, the Pink Tide will stay because the Left promoted social inclusion and poverty alleviation. However, Leftist leaders have not been able to adequately address corruption, organized crime and rampant petty crimes. The region also has to contend with competing regionalism between its multilateral institutions such as UNA, MERCOSUR and PetroCaribe.

On engaging Latin America, PH-Latin American trade is very small. There is also a small number of OFWs in the region, mostly in the Caribbean.  Despite these obstacles, Dr. Arugay highlighted the importance of diversifying foreign relations and examining opportunities in Latin America. He further stated that the non-political aspects of diplomacy must be examined.  On TPP, he said the Philippines should reach out to its counterparts.