Malcolm Deas: “There is no uniformity in the Latin American left, nor an example of success to imitate” | Colombian Presidential Elections

Malcolm Deas, a professor at the University of Oxford and one of the most reputable Colombian supporters, answers bluntly. From the United Kingdom, he reports to EL PAÍS and, with his historian’s gaze, his experience of more than 60 years studying Latin America and especially Colombia, he talks about the state of the region’s democracies. “They don’t read Latin America well, neither from Europe nor from the Anglo-Saxon world. It is the region of the world that suffers the most from stereotypes and lazy generalizations ”, he warns as soon as he starts the talk.

Question. You say that in Latin America there are nation-states that are older than those of some European countries. Why don’t our forms of democracy seem very evolved? Or are they?

Reply. It must be recognized that the countries of the region have very different traditions and political systems, very varied. Not surprisingly, most have two centuries of independent, individual political life. As nation-states are older than certain European nations: Germany, Italy, Greece, Belgium… it is not surprising that they offer a varied range of success and failure in the consolidation of their democracies.

Q. Does the old pink tide, which President Gustavo Petro now calls “One Latin America”, in the style of a Creole European Union have any support? Are you playing with invisible dice? If it is not towards integration, where should we go in Latin America to think of ourselves as a bloc?

R. The rhetoric of integration is not convincing, nor are those who aspire to regional leadership. The obstacles are many, the common interests weak. Better that each country concentrate on its own problems and their solution. Why, and how to “think en bloc”?

There is not, nor has there been, a leading country. Brazil is a self-absorbed country, it is not interested, it has a different language from the others, it is geographically isolated; Argentina excels only in soccer, politically it is a disaster; from Venezuela we remember Chávez’s attempts and his failure: what happened to UNASUR? Who offers a peso for his bronze statue of Néstor Kirchner? Nor does integration seem so successful and popular in other parts of the world, such as in Europe, where it is not seen as democratic.


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Q. How do you read the Mexico of López Obrador, the Chile of Boric, the Brazil of Lula or the Argentina of Fernández? How to explain the Bukele phenomenon in El Salvador?

There is no uniformity in the regional left, nor an example of success to imitate. Chile with Boric very low; Argentina is not a model for anyone; Brazil with a Lula that today is a figure of the center; Mexico with AMLO is intelligible only to Mexicans, and not by all of them; Peru is in a serious state of chaos. Not to mention the former left of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Q. Regarding Cuba, why is a 64-year-old block that does not achieve its objective sustainable? Why has Biden not made a fundamental difference against Trump?

R. It is true that the blockade has not worked, but about the only attractive offer that your government has now is your service to help improve the internal control systems of authoritarian governments, as seen in Venezuela.

Q. Well, how does Colombia today read the reformist proposals of President Petro?

R. Until now it is difficult to discern the concrete content of the proposals of President Gustavo Petro. Vague political rhetoric is not his or Colombia’s monopoly, but in the face of the recent high dose I want to record my skepticism in the face of repeated notions of participation, inclusion, equality, dialogue, particularly dialogue in the streets, of protest… the latter, by context, generally approved. The problem with all of them is their difficult translation into viable projects. Meanwhile, it must be recognized that not everyone wants to spend their time participating, and that the streets are not a good place to have a serious dialogue. My protest is not only for pedantry.

Malcolm Deas is an English historian specializing in the study of Latin America in general and Colombia in particular.
Malcolm Deas is an English historian specializing in the study of Latin America in general and Colombia in particular.Gladys Serrano

Q. Was it inevitable that Colombia would go through a left-wing government?

R. Petro is the first Colombian president to declare himself on the left, yes, but he is far from being a progressive president.

Q. Colombia is going through the tragedy of drug trafficking. The president bets on a total peace that goes through the review of the fight against drugs, his bet being that of legalization. Is it the only way?

R. The peace that President Juan Manuel Santos managed to make with the FARC guerrillas was the product in part of the military successes of his predecessor, President Álvaro Uribe, and in part of the great patience and expertise of his negotiating team. Although not total, it was historic in producing the general recognition of Colombians that the future was not going to be the product of the armed revolutionary struggle. The “total peace” that President Petro aspires to obtain through negotiations with the remaining violent and criminal groups will require an equally coordinated, patient and intelligent effort. Drug trafficking continues to complicate everything. Colombia does not have the capacity to solve this problem, nor is there any profound change in sight in its international treatment. However, Colombia has to manage it within its means, and certain policies are better than others.

Q. In the United States there is a regression in rights achieved such as abortion, and racism and homophobia are growing. What analysis to make?

R. On her visit to the London School of Economics in 2009, Queen Elizabeth II asked the assembled economists why no one had foreseen the great crisis of 2008. It makes you want to ask the luminaries of political science at universities in the United States why that no one had foreseen Trump’s triumph. The other democracies in the hemisphere continue with their different limitations and problems, which are very acute today in Peru and Haiti. But perhaps the country that should worry the faithful to democracy the most is the United States.

Q. In the United Kingdom, where you live, there is another political crisis. How to explain it, is it a consequence of Brexit?

R. Brexit has a lot to do with the crisis we’ve had since that referendum. Economically it has been a mistake, now most people recognize it. Politically it deeply divided the ruling Conservative Party. Many of its best elements came out, and we have had three governments in a row, those of Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Elizabeth Truss, which in their various ways the worst in many decades. Rishi Sunak’s current one is weak, his party is still divided and with many elements that are not very lucid. Fortunately we didn’t win the soccer cup.

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