The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen extraordinary political developments in the Latin American left. Indeed, there is no historical precedent for the simultaneous election across the region of governments that can be identified with the political left. From Tabaré Vasquez in Uruguay to Martín Torrijos in Panama; from Néstor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina to Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; from Michelle Bachelet in Chile to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; from Evo Morales in Bolivia to Rafael Correa no Ecuador—as well as Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and, more recently, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay—representatives of practically all of the region's formative leftist currents have taken over the governments of large, medium, and small countries.
This article takes Brazil under Lula's government as a case study in order to explore the relationship between the various dimensions of the region's lefts: the social and the institutional, civil society and the state, the national and the international, and stability and transformation. Indeed, the election to the presidency of a survivor of the extreme poverty and harsh droughts of northeastern Brazil, a one-time metalworker with little access to formal education, had a profound impact on both the country's social movements and the political party that he founded and led. By examining the hopes and frustrations, dilemmas, and accomplishments of Lula's government, we can better achieve a more dense and nuanced understanding of the larger historical process through which the Latin American Left has reached power.