Opinion | Elected leaders should be held to the standards that they campaigned on


AP Photo/Andre Penner

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks to supporters after defeating incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a presidential run-off election to become the country’s next president, in São Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

By Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Staff Columnist

Last week’s election in Brazil came as a huge relief to many. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s very close victory over Jair Bolsonaro felt like desperately needed respite, given the recent victories of extreme right-wing candidates in Europe and in Peru’s local elections.

When the barrage of demoralizing political news feels never-ending, the reelection of a familiar, leftist face feels like a sign that things are finally going in the right direction. It feels especially true considering the left’s electoral progress in Chile with Gabriel Boric, and with Gustavo Petro in Colombia

We run the risk, however, of letting our relief overpower our awareness of the enduring problems that can’t be solved with the candidates’ proposed reforms alone. Lula, Boric and to a less established degree, Petro, are all democratic socialists who very effectively wield the language and the strategies of the more committed left, without delivering further. 

It can sometimes feel counterproductive or even reactionary to criticize the few leftists in power. They are already facing such a steady stream of criticism from the right-wing, and from liberals, who attempt to disguise their dismay at the prospect of regulations against exploitation as fear of corruption. In a sense, though, not engaging in or starting critical discussions just because arguing with the right is so tiring only allows for their narrative to become the dominant one.

Lula worked with Bush far too closely. His decision to put Brazil in charge of the United Nations Stabilization MissionMINUSTAH operation — in Haiti and to continue the U.S. and the UN’s brutality there cannot go unremarked on. The UN proposed that their presence in Haiti was a “peacekeeping” endeavor, which did not materialize, particularly after Lula sent in the Brazilian military to aid the UN. After about five years, the UN finally admitted their actions played some role in causing one of the deadliest outbreaks of cholera, which killed nearly 10,000 and infected more than 800,000. The MINUSTAH operation has been cited in instances of extrajudicial killing of civilians and widespread sexual abuse on multiple occasions. 

While it is obvious that the UN is at fault for the atrocities committed in the last two decades, Lula should be held to the standards he has always professed and campaigned on. He should face pressure to not repeat the mistakes made in Haiti, as well as to not utilize Brazil’s military or security forces of any sort in such a punitive way, particularly not in accordance with the values of a country like the U.S., given his staunch criticisms of those values in the past. 

In Chile, Boric’s presidency has been marred by his inaction toward the political prisoners jailed for participation in protests that helped him to be elected. This inaction has elicited a similar strain of disappointment from communists who, perhaps naively, expected more from his presidency. Boric campaigned for the liberation of political prisoners in a particularly contested moment, when hundreds of Chileans were held on charges related to the demonstrations in 2019 and 2021. A year into his presidency, and as of May, more than 200 people are still incarcerated — about 140 in “preventative” prison and 70 with firm sentences. 

At times like these, it can become difficult to not let the desire to appreciate any and all victories against the encroachment of fascism become an overwhelming one. There needs to be more priority given to the voices of Haitians displaced and abused by the Brazilian military, to the actual Brazilian working class and the hundreds of young people currently held in prisons in Chile. Lula and Boric were elected on the premise of transformation, if not revolution, not simply reform. 

Pressing for more than reform is crucial, given that the ‘“international community” that exists today — which, while obviously U.S. and Eurocentric, passes itself off as international — is entirely unsuited to and uninterested in alleviating the burden of the working class anywhere, but particularly in the global south. The 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and the thousands of dead in Haiti that can be laid directly at the UN’s feet are proof enough of that. 

The UN’s peacekeeping missions end up in tremendous loss and rampant violence. This “community” of organizations supposedly dedicated to human rights offers little protection to vulnerable people. This makes it necessary to hold the few left-leaning leaders in power to a higher standard, and makes it all the more disheartening to see their willingness to abandon the truly marginalized for a seat at that community’s table. It’s high time that the other, much more international community of workers, refugees and displaced peoples is given a platform and not told to simply be happy with what little they have gotten through elections. 


Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]