Home » AOC and Democratic Colleagues Learn Lessons From Latin-America’s Resurgent Left
Latin America News South America

AOC and Democratic Colleagues Learn Lessons From Latin-America’s Resurgent Left

The sun was shining and the wind was kicking up in Brazil’s largest favela last week, as a delegation of US Congress members got an up-close-and-personal view of collective action in bloom. The contingent of Democrats, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, toured Sol Nascente, on the outskirts of the capital, Brasília—a neighborhood that is also the focus of organizing by the Homeless Workers Movement, an iconic social movement in Brazil. The visitors toured a community kitchen, with a colorful library stocked with children’s books, and a garden that grows organic produce used to feed around 130 families, five days a week.

“This entire space was built by the community,” said Guilherme Castro Boulos, a popular left-wing Brazilian congressman who is running for mayor of São Paolo next year. Then, they broke bread with the women who run the kitchen, before visiting one of their homes, built with their own hands and adorned with a simple plaque that read: “My address was won in struggle.” The favela tour was part of an historic visit to Brazil, Chile, and Colombia by Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez of New York, Joaquin Castro and Greg Casar of Texas, and Maxwell Frost of Florida, along with Senator Bernie Sanders’s chief of staff, Misty Rebik. Sponsored by the progressive think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the week-long mission was an immersive, whirlwind foray into the heart of progressive power in three countries that have recently seen their governments swing from right to left.

The message was clear: From the dusty streets of a Brazilian favela, to FaceTiming with presidents and other top dignitaries, the group was there to listen, and chart a new course for relations between the United States and Latin America. They met with labor organizers, a new generation of Indigenous and Black women leaders, environmental activists, human rights defenders, community care workers, and a long list of government officials. “We are here because fascist movements are global, and as a result progressive movements also have to be global if we are going to rise to the challenges of these times,” Ocasio-Cortez, speaking in Spanish, told members of the Commission of the Amazon and the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples on the group’s first day in Brasilia. She drew links between attacks on the environment, women, workers, and democracy with growing inequality around the world.

“The only way we are going to be able to dismantle our systems of injustice and inequality domestically is by joining together locally and transnationally,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Your example is an example for us.” In Brazil, they met with Célia Xakriabá, the first Indigenous federal deputy elected in the large inland state of Minas Gerais, along with Anielle Franco, Brazil’s first minister of racial equality, and Environment and Climate Change Minister Marina Silva. In Chile, the focus was on human rights, in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état against the country’s first elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. They met with President Gabriel Boric and visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, which commemorates the victims of the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. “US foreign policy has too often contributed to instability in Latin America: we should be protecting democracy rather than supporting coups, and we should be creating peace and prosperity across the Western Hemisphere rather than replaying the Cold War,” Casar said in a press release.

In an Instagram Live conversation with Camila Vallejo,, the minister secretary general of the Chilean government, Ocasio-Cortez highlighted her own efforts to get the US government to declassify documents related to the Chilean coup. “This is an historic moment in the United States,” she added, noting that it has never had so many Latino legislators in the Congress. “And we want that level of representation to be reflected in a change in the relationship between the US and Latin America.” The delegation also met with former president Michelle Bachelet, Santiago Mayor Irací Hassler, and other local leaders to discuss environmental protection efforts, and learned about the country’s “feminist foreign policy.”

The congressional trip culminated in Bogotá, where they attended meetings with President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez Mina, the first Black woman to be elected to the vice presidency in Colombia, and an acclaimed environmental activist. They learned about the ongoing peace process, the country’s energy transition, social and agrarian reform, among other policies, and sat down with Black and Indigenous delegates to hear about efforts to protect frontline communities from illegal resource extraction and violence. “We hope that this visit to Latin America will be very useful to strengthen our relations and ways of cooperation,” Marquez Mina said in a statement.

Indeed, the visit was a show not just of progressive strength but also cultural unity. Ocasio-Cortez said it’s perhaps the first time that an entirely Spanish-speaking delegation of Congress members has traveled to South America, while Castro—whose grandmother came to Texas as an orphan at the start of the Mexican revolution—highlighted his own family’s story. “Today, the vast and diverse Latino diaspora forms the backbone of communities from San Antonio to Springfield, Massachusetts, and newly arrived immigrants are breathing new life into cities across the industrial Midwest,” said Castro, the highest-ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in a statement. “Congress must learn how to harness America’s immigrant communities as a source of strength.”

Cooperation was a theme highlighted time and again through Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram feed, which served as a window into the trip. She provided frequent updates to her 8.5-million followers that included brief history lessons, reflections on past US interventionist policy, and instruction on how to build collective solidarity. A spokesperson for the Homeless Workers Movement—whose controversial tactics include occupying land and buildings to secure affordable housing—told The Nation that the visit helped to “feed hope,” showing that in the largest favela in Brazil “alternatives based on popular organization” are succeeding. The group heard directly from the Black women who run the kitchen, and who are at the center of organizing and solidarity building in the movement and the country.

There were personal moments of connection, as well, among feminists who see in Ocasio-Cortez a role model. In Brasilia, Dandara Tonantzin, a Black woman, former teacher, and now federal elected representative who fights police brutality, told Ocasio-Cortez that the documentary Knock Down the House, which chronicled the congresswoman’s 2018 victory in New York’s 14th Congressional District, inspired her to run for office. Her campaign slogan, “Turn the tables of power,” was modeled after the name of the documentary. In Chile, Santiago Mayor Hassler gripped Ocasio-Cortez’s hands before the cameras. “To see that there are young, strong, progressive women who are confronting these challenges, [and] to know that we are in this together, gives us energy,” said Hassler, an economist and communist politician who was elected mayor of the country’s capital city at the age of 30. “Absolutely,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And we are here supporting you.”