Brazil's embattled president, Lula da Silva

Two decades ago, the left began to gain control in South America, with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, soon followed by Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and, in 2003, "Lula" da Silva in Brazil, a former steelworker at the head of the Workers Party, winning victory on his fifth attempt.

Venezuela alone attempted to implement significant state socialism, fuelled by petrodollars; the debacle there has obscured the varieties of approaches to leftist reform across the continent, and their successes in alleviating poverty and extending democracy. Lula's Brazil was the most centre-left of all these attempts, with its leader conscious that he was leading a global behemoth, not a small nation.