Latin Amer­ica, 2006

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

With 10 lead­er­ship elec­tions in 2006, Latin Amer­ica faced a po­ten­tial shake up. The elec­tion of Evo Mo­rales in De­cem­ber 2005 could have been a har­bin­ger of that shift. The pro­tege of Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez is a for­mer coca grower who sup­ported na­tion­al­iza­tion of Bo­livia’s oil re­sources and pledged dur­ing his cam­paign to be a night­mare for the United States. A year later, the elec­tion re­sults have not borne this out. What con­tin­ued to emerge in Latin Amer­ica were two dif­fer­ent molds of left­ist gov­ern­ment — sup­port­ers of free-mar­ket and free-trade pol­icy with a com­mit­ment to democ­racy, and au­thor­i­tar­ian left­ists who con­sol­i­date po­lit­i­cal power and state con­trol of nat­u­ral re­sources.

Il­lus­tra­tive of the for­mer is Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, the freemar­ke­teer with pop­ulist ap­peal who won re­elec­tion hand­ily in a runoff. Sim­i­lar to Mr. Lula da Silva in her com­mit­ment to free trade is Michelle Bachelet, the first wo­man elected pres­i­dent of Chile. Dur­ing her first year, she inked free-trade agree­ments with Colom­bia, Panama and neigh­bor­ing Peru, where a re­formed Alan Gar­cia was re­elected 16 years af­ter the end of his eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally dis­as­trous pres­i­dency. So far, Mr. Gar­cia has stayed away from the dis­mal poli­cies, in­clud­ing an ef­fort to na­tion­al­ize Peru’s banks, that sent in­fla­tion soar­ing to around 7,000 per­cent and crip­pled the coun­try.

Also sig­nif­i­cant in the Peru­vian elec­tion was the trac­tion Mr. Gar­cia was able to gain by high­light­ing the ide­o­log­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties and likely po­lit­i­cal al­liance of his op­po­nent, ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Lt. Col. Ol­lanta Hu­mala, with Mr. Chavez. In Mex­ico, cen­ter-right can­di­date Felipe Calderon found some early cam­paign suc­cess with the same tac­tic. Mr. Calderon’s op­po­nent, Mex­ico City chief An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador, ve­he­mently de­nied the con­nec­tion, call­ing it mere pro­pa­ganda. Even in coun­tries where the far-left agen­das of Col. Hu­mala or Mr. Lopez Obrador gar­ner wide­spread sup­port (Mr. Lopez Obrador lost by the nar­row­est of mar­gins), the Chavez model is not broadly em­braced.

The re­gion saw cen­ter-right can­di­dates elected in Hon­duras, Costa Rica and (re­elected) in Colom­bia. Dis­cour­ag­ingly, on the other hand, Mr. Chavez eas­ily won re-elec­tion, Rafael Cor­rea won in a runoff in Ecuador and San­din­ista leader Daniel Ortega re­turned to power in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, how­ever, po­lit­i­cal col­lu­sion to lower the vote thresh­old re­quired for a firstround vic­tory and a split of the cen­ter-right votes be­tween two can­di­dates — not an ide­o­log­i­cal ref­er­en­dum — re­turned Mr. Ortega to power.

Mex­ico’s dis­puted elec­tion, which was suc­cess­fully re­solved through le­gal process, was the only hic­cup in the oth­er­wise smooth trans­fers of power. The Latin Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal land­scape that emerged af­ter 2006 is, with a few no­table ex­cep­tions, com­posed of gov­ern­ments that are seem­ingly more amenable to the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas agenda — free trade and healthy, work­ing re­la­tions with the Wash­ing­ton — than they are with Mr. Chavez’s agenda. The re­sults could have been worse. Wash­ing­ton should re­main cir­cum­spect, but not alarmed.

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