AN EVENT FEATURING Ivanka Trump, the king of Spain and Jeremy Corbyn sounds like a fever dream. But for one curious afternoon in December the trio came together in Mexico City for the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. While a Brexit-induced political crisis raged in Britain, the Labour leader was in Mexico to watch the new president—who calls Mr Corbyn his “eternal friend”—being sworn in.
Latin America looms large in Mr Corbyn’s political imagination. He spent his formative years gallivanting round South America and speaks fluent, London-accented Spanish. His wife is from Mexico (and his ex-wife from Chile). While fending off a leadership coup in the summer of 2016, Mr Corbyn took time to attend an event hosted by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, of which he is a long-term supporter. It is a fixation shared by his close allies. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, were among several senior Corbynites who signed a letter this week dismissing the “US attempt at regime change” under way in Venezuela.
An obsession with all things Latin has long been common in the Labour movement, points out Grace Livingstone of Cambridge University. The Cuban revolution represented a socialism that did not stem from the dour bureaucrats of the Soviet Union (even if Havana did eventually fall in line behind Moscow). Salvador Allende’s election in Chile in 1970 was seen as a triumph for democratic socialism; his removal in a coup is still taken as evidence that the forces of capital would smash an embryonic Corbyn-led government. “There are powerful forces…that want to oppose those who want to bring about economic and social justice,” Mr Corbyn told La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, last year.
Activists hail radical leaders such as Evo Morales in Bolivia as bulwarks against neoliberalism and decry any attempt to rein in the government of Venezuela, whose economy has collapsed as its left-wing leaders have turned to autocracy. Where Latin American governments have succeeded, it is an example of socialism in action; where they have failed, it is a demonstration of nefarious American imperialism.
The obsession can backfire. Mr Corbyn’s support for the late Hugo Chávez looks even more ill-judged now that Venezuela has fallen deeper into anarchy. Footage of a chat between Mr Corbyn and Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, on the latter’s radio talk-show, “En contacto con Maduro”, does not help.
Whether British voters care is another matter; few share his interest in Latin American politics. But Mr Corbyn’s rise means that Latin America may start paying more attention to the British left. On the eve of his inauguration, Mr López Obrador said he wanted “with all my heart, with all my soul” to see his British friend become prime minister. Should Mr Corbyn make it to Downing Street, a transatlantic invitation will be in the post and another fever dream can begin.