Pink Tide in Latin America

To begin to first understand the concept of “Pink Tide”, an explanation is due. Just what is the Pink Tide? No, it’s not an algal bloom in the ocean that turns the water seemingly pink; it is a commentary on the types of Latin American government and their leaders. Many people from the US know of the “(Second) Red Scare” that took place there during the 1950s. The perceived threat of communism and the red associated with it- due to the USSR’s flag- was bordering on hysteria. Government leaders in the United States were becoming increasingly worried, perhaps even paranoid, that there were Communists within the United States that were trying to infiltrate and destroy democracy from within. It was one thing if the USSR wanted to run its country and people into the ground with communism, but the United States and Senator Joseph McCarthy would not allow it. They set out to conduct rigorous investigations and trials of both legitimate and illegitimate communist supporters.

Even though the hype of this “Red Scare” died down, the fear of encroaching communism did not. This is a large reason behind the United States’ fear of Latin American countries becoming a communist or a pseudo-communist nation. The “Domino Theory” stated that if surrounding countries fell to communism, than the countries very close by were at high risk of becoming communist themselves. Even though many political scientists argued that this theory had little evidence to support it, especially in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War, it is still well-known and taught in many schools. Fear of communism essentially is the reason the US keeps such a close eye on Latin American countries and their governments. The “Pink Tide” in Latin American countries refers to the notion that while the countries have democratically elected leaders, their ideology and ways of running the government are characteristic to communist leaders. The pink refers to an almost red, or communist, way of running Latin American countries, but it also alludes to the range or spread of leaders across the political spectrum. While there are leaders in Latin America that are more militant like the USSR, there are also socially liberal leaders; this blend of leadership is represented by the blending of colors to yield pink.

Two examples of the diversity of political leaders in Latin America are Hugo Chávez from Venezuela and Michelle Bachelet from Chile. Chávez came to power through his part in the attempted military coup of the Venezuelan government. His famous “por ahora” speech led to his rising popularity among the citizens of the nation who were unhappy with how the current president at the time was running the country. They saw in Chávez a man with ideas about how to better the government for all of the people- not just the rich. Hugo Chávez was elected as president of Venezuela in 1999 on the basis that he would redistribute the oil wealth and enact social reform projects. After only a few years, citizens grew unhappy with Chávez and his government as he began to pass radical laws with his executive power and ally the country with those in direct opposition to the United States at the time, such as Cuba and Iraq. Coming from the military, Chávez ruled Venezuela through ready use of its military. Many citizens of Venezuela and outside countries like the US saw the perceivable shift from democracy to a communist dictatorship and became worried.

Hugo Chávez

Some time after Chávez and his fall from power, Michelle Bachelet was elected as President of Chile in 2006. She came to power by promoting her ideas of decreasing the poverty level and endorsing minority rights. Bachelet also declared that she would maintain positive relations with the US, unlike Chávez. While Bachelet faced discontent at the beginning of her presidency, she would come to be known as one of the most popular presidents of Chile by staying true to her word of reforming the economy and providing for the poor. The term limits imposed by Chile’s constitution prevented Bachelet from “overstaying her welcome” and thus she left the presidency as one of Chile’s best presidents who listened to the people of the nation and their desires.

Michelle Bachelet


Hellinger, Daniel. 2011. Comparative Politics of Latin America: Democracy at Last? 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Nelson, Brian A. “Hugo Chavez.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (October 8, 2016).

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. 2016. “Michelle Bachelet.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (October 8, 2016).