For a couple of generations scholars in Latin-American studies have been firmly on the left, convinced that the huddled masses of South America and Mesoamerica would, if given the chance, embrace socialism or communism.
But mostly they haven't. Sometimes, center-left and even far-left parties win elections, but when the latter do they often try to subvert democracy and undermine freedoms, as is happening in Venezuela now.
The news this year is that voters are rejecting the left. In Peru's first round of voting in April, the strongest center-left candidate finished third and thus failed to qualify for the final round in June. In that contest, former Prime Minister and World Bank executive Pedro Pablo Kuczynski finished narrowly ahead of Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, who successfully quelled the Maoist Sendero Luminoso terrorist group. This Sunday, voters in Colombia, the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking country, and Sao Paulo, Latin America's largest population municipality, also thumpingly rejected the left.
Over the weekend, Colombians voted down President Juan Manuel Santos' peace pact with the narcoterrorist FARC insurgency. The margin was exceedingly close, but it had been expected to pass easily. The pact was supported by most articulate opinion but opposed by Santos' predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, who had astonishing success in quelling the FARC, with the support of the United States and our Plan Colombia, initiated by Bill Clinton's administration and strongly supported by George W. Bush's.
In Sao Paulo, Joao Doria of the center-right PSDB won an upset victory for mayor with a surprise absolute majority in the first round of voting. Sao Paulo is one of the most prosperous parts of currently economically ailing Brazil, but most of its 12 million people are by no means affluent by North American standards. Nonetheless, the city politically leans to the right. Crowds of over 1 million people jammed the Avenida Paulista opposing center-left President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached by the Chamber of Deputies in May and removed from office by the Senate in August. Nor were the huddled masses absent from the polls. Brazil has compulsory voting, and some 5,789,891 votes were cast for mayor — a whole lot more than the 1,087,710 votes cast in the most recent election for mayor of New York City in 2013.
All this comes on top of the election of center-right President Mauricio Macri in Argentina last December. His predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was a supporter of Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian" successor in Venezuela and allies in Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador.
I don't claim there's an ineluctable trend to the center-right in Latin America: each country has its own politics, its own traditions, its own economy. Center-left candidates do continue to win some elections and will win some more. But the idea that the oppressed masses in their righteous might will bring the hard left to power if they get the chance, long the staple of many academics in Latin American studies departments, seems more than a little threadbare.