(Cuban leader, 1959-2008)
From 1976 until 2008, Castro was an inspiration for a generation of Latin Americans who warmed to his anti-imperialist, socialist agenda. By the mid-2000s, the continent had seen the rise of what became known as the “pink tide” (ie, something less than red-blooded socialism). Castro formed alliances and friendships with many leaders — including late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. A BBC report in 2005 estimated that, of 350 million Latin Americans, three out of four lived under left-wing administrations — a dramatic break with the era when the continent was governed by leaders sympathetic to, and supported by, the US.
Hugo Chavez was among the first of the late 20th-century Latin American leaders who came to power with a left-wing agenda.
Chavez looked to Simon Bolivar — godfather of South American independence — for inspiration for his Latin socialism. He was elected president of Venezuela in 1999 and served until his death last week.
Elected president of Brazil in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, the former union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised major social reforms and oversaw the emergence of Brazil as an economic powerhouse, which did much to raise millions of people in the country out of poverty.
Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, was elected president of Uruguay in October 2004 and left office in 2010. A member of the Socialist party, he became the country’s first president from a left-wing party. One of his first actions was to announce a US$100-million-a-year project to alleviate extreme poverty.
Michelle Bachelet’s election as president of Chile in 2006 was significant for a number of reasons. She was the first female president, she was a social democrat, and her father, General Alberto Bachelet, who served under Allende, had been tortured by, and died during, the Pinochet dictatorship.
Evo Morales, was elected president of Bolivia in 2006, is a champion of indigenous rights and a vocal critic of US foreign policy.
Morales has committed himself to implementing widespread land reforms that would help the poorest peasant farmers, and to ensuring that the wealth from the country’s gas reserves is distributed more equally.
Rafael Correa, who as elected as president of Ecuador in 2006 and then re-elected last month for a second term.
Correa is an economist who came to power on the back of his opposition to the IMF’s plans for remedying his country’s economic ills. Instead, he rolled back the IMF’s plans and put an end to privatization of national resources such as water, oil and gas.