Can the Latin American left learn a lesson from Brasilia?

Colombia's Gustavo Petro greets Chile's Gabriel Boric in Santiago. Photo: Presidencia.

The siege of Brasilia was short lived. The political combustion that spilled into the streets of the Brazilian capital was ignited by the social media playbook, a construct as artificial as the city where the events played-out, and “siege” of the federalist seat of government.

As angry demonstrators attempted to smash the security-reinforced glass of the Supreme Court, Congress and Presidential Palace, all located within a compound familiar to bureaucrats and legislators, the demonstration was small (an estimated 4,000) in comparison to the mass protests that invaded the streets of Colombian cities during three months of the Paro Nacional. The Paro Nacional was a calculated event by a self-professed Strike Committee whose poster boy for “social outrage” now occupies the top seat in the country.

While Gustavo Petro rightfully condemns any act of violence that targets a legitimate, democratically-elected leader, within the South American continent, he has yet to verbalize the same contempt for Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, or Peru’s Pedro Castillo’s authoritarian decision to dissolve Congress in order to avoid impeachment.

Social protests with excessive acts of vandalism in Chile and Colombia dominated the political agendas of Gabriel Boric and Gustavo Petro, both “progressives” whose power derives from months of domestic unrest. Lula, on the other hand, did not have to cripple his nation’s economy by inspiring “first line” defenders to barricade roads and cities, nor threaten to halt all oil and gas exploration to win his third presidential term. In fact, Sunday’s events in Brasilia has cemented the democratic integrity of the Lula administration, and a timely example to the global community that regardless of where the political pendulum is poised across the region, the most recent electoral processes in 21st-Century South America will not be usurped – or suppressed – by fringe factions or the radical disenfranchised.

The message from Brasilia has reached Venezuela. As the only communist, military-backed government on the continent, Maduro is being lured to the democratic fold by the prospect of economic integration with his Andean and Amazonian neighbors rather than some ideological affinity with “Pink Tide” governments. With still a long way to go before democracy is returned to Venezuelans, hours before the first pro-Bolsonaro supporters began to set up their makeshift camps in Brasilia, Colombia’s Gustavo Petro was in Caracas with his counterpart Maduro.

The motive behind Petro’s second trip in less than three months to meet the entrenched leader of chavismo? To fully couple Venezuela with Colombia’s “total peace” process, as well as its energy and commercial infrastructure.

As the harbinger of the democratic charter, yet despite his pre-campaign days to delegitimize the presidency of his predecessor Iván Duque, Gustavo Petro would do well to learn from the Brasilia episode, as democracy at home must be earned through trust in institutions and not the activist discourse. Hopefully recent trips to Brasilia and Santiago can consolidate Petro’s early legacy as peacemaker and negotiator. The real test for Latin America’s “Pink Tide” presidents rests clearly on the will of the electorate, not populism.