Skip to comments.Latin America's shift to the left
Posted on 07/09/2003 3:50:30 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
When left-of-center President Néstor Kirchner took office in late May at a crowded ceremony attended by 13 foreign leaders, no visiting head of state won more applause than Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The second-longest ovation went to Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chávez. The third one was for Brazil's leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. By comparison, President Bush's special envoy, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, received what could only be described as polite applause.
The scene at the national congress reflected the shift in Latin America's political mood. After more than a decade of U.S.-backed free-market reforms and generally pro-American foreign policies, widespread disillusion with pro-business economic policies and anger over U.S. unilateralism in foreign affairs -- especially after the war with Iraq -- have combined to sway the region's political pendulum to the left, polls confirm.
Indeed, the political map of Latin America is looking increasingly red: Leftist or left-of-center presidents now rule in seven countries, including Cuba and Brazil, the largest nation in the region. These countries account for 55 percent of Latin America's 507 million people. The biggest shift has taken place in South America, where left-of-center presidents now rule over 75 percent of the region's population, 345 million people.
Granted, most of these leftist leaders have turned out to be much more moderate than predicted when they were making fiery campaign speeches against U.S.-style capitalism. But others have not, and there are lingering questions in U.S. corporate headquarters and foreign policy circles over whether those who have adopted pragmatic policies will stick to them if things don't go well.
Consider the recent changes in Latin America's political landscape:
Argentina's Kirchner, who campaigned against U.S.-backed free-market policies -- and made a point of not meeting the U.S. ambassador to Argentina during the electoral race -- has said he will end his country's ''automatic alignment'' with the United States. Instead, Argentina's new government says, it will side with Brazil on major foreign policy decisions.
In Brazil, da Silva took office Jan. 1 as head of a proudly leftist government. A union leader who until only a year ago advocated not paying Brazil's foreign debt and rolling back his predecessor's free-market reforms, da Silva said during the campaign that a U.S.-backed hemispheric free-trade plan amounts to the ''economic annexation'' of Latin America to the United States. He gave a red-carpet welcome to Chávez and Castro on his first day in office.
In Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez took office Jan. 15 after winning an upset victory with the backing of his Patriotic Society Party and Pachakutik, a leftist political movement that represents the country's marginalized Indians. A former army officer who led a failed coup in January 2000, Gutiérrez vowed in his inauguration ceremony to take strong steps against ``the corrupt oligarchy that has robbed our money.''
In Venezuela, Chávez has gradually radicalized his ''Bolivarian revolution'' since taking office in 1999. In his first year in office, he proclaimed that ''Venezuela . . . is heading in the same direction, toward the same sea to which the Cuban people are heading: a sea of happiness, of real social justice, of peace,'' and added that he would turn over the government ''in the year 2013.'' Most recently, he has blamed the ''oligarchy'' for trying to topple him, and said he intends to remain in power until 2021.
In Chile, Socialist Party leader Ricardo Lagos took office in 2000 as his country's first leftist president since the end of the rightist dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
Haiti is led by a leftist president.
And Castro remains firmly entrenched in Cuba nearly 45 years after seizing power.
ARGENTINES BLAME U.S.
In few countries has the public opinion shift to the left been as evident as in Argentina. Polls show that most Argentines blame the U.S.-backed economic reforms of the 1990s for the economic collapse that sank the country into its worst crisis in recent history last year. They're eager to try something new -- even if it's something that hasn't worked in the past.
While most Argentines describe themselves as ''centrists,'' the percentage of those who call themselves ''leftists'' rose from 12 percent in 1997 to 19 percent in 2002, according to the Latin America-wide Latinobarómetro poll. During the recent U.S.-led war on Iraq, 90 percent of Argentines opposed the war, more than in any other Latin American country, a Gallup poll found.
On the surface, the emergence of a corps of leftist leaders in the region should provoke fear that it is once again becoming an arena for neo-Marxist political experimentation, along with contempt for both free-market economic policies and genuine democratic reform. But some analysts suggest a more cautious reading: Some of this merely reflects opposition to Bush administration policies, they say. And, more important, if the political leadership is shifting to the left, the leftist political agenda is far more moderate than it once was.
Argentine officials dismiss the applause for Castro at Kirchner's inauguration ceremony as a frivolous response to a world-famous figure who was on a rare visit to Argentina, or as a slap at the United States. They say it was Argentines' way of expressing their disapproval of U.S. foreign policy, especially the war with Iraq, rather than an expression of sympathy for a leftist dictator.
Still, when Argentina's mass circulation daily Clarín asked readers of its web page whether they admired or rejected Castro, 51 percent of the 23,500 respondents said they felt admiration for the Cuban president, and only 23 percent said they didn't like him.
In another Internet poll by the conservative daily La Nación, 51 percent of 11,320 respondents said they thought Castro's televised speech during his stay in Buenos Aires had been ''excellent'' or ''good'' while 42 percent said they hadn't liked it.
''The war with Iraq touched a raw nerve in Latin America,'' said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue, a centrist Washington think tank. ``There is this tremendous opposition to unilateralism, especially in the sector of the population that in recent years came to think that the United States was serious about democracy and the rule of law.''
Polls show, however, that there is little support in Latin America for a Castro-type revolution, or even for anything resembling Chávez's populism.
The Latinobarómetro poll, conducted in 17 Latin American countries last year, shows that region-wide support for market economics remains at about 57 percent, and that despite a slight rise in anti-Americanism, 65 percent of South Americans, 85 percent of Central Americans and 63 percent of Mexicans still have a positive image of the United States.
While the numbers are expected to be lower today because of the wave of anti-American sentiment sparked by the war with Iraq, Latin Americans in general have a better image of the United States than people in the Middle East or many Asian countries, pollsters say.
But the region's love affair with the United States has now evolved into what Brazilian and Argentine diplomats call a ''a mature relationship'' or a ''relationship of mutual respect'' -- code words for polite ties among sides that don't agree on major issues.
Earlier this year, Mexico and Chile, among Washington's closest allies in the region, denied the United States two key votes at the United Nations Security Council that would have helped Bush get a de facto international seal of approval to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
In another example of Latin America's growing detachment from Bush administration policies, a secret ballot by the 34-nation Organization of American States in early June for the first time denied Washington a seat on its Human Rights Commission.
U.S. nominee Rafael Martinez, a Cuban-American lawyer and brother of Housing Secretary Martinez, who represented the U.S. government at the Kirchner inauguration, was voted down, while pro-Chávez Venezuelan lawyer Freddy Gutiérrez was elected to the commission.
''I've never seen such a strong Latin American reaction against the United States,'' Arturo Valenzuela, a former Clinton administration official, said, referring to the OAS vote against the Bush administration's candidate. ``It was shocking.''
LULA SETTING TONE
Political analysts agree that Brazil's da Silva seems to have set the tone of Latin America's new leftist presidents -- by following relatively orthodox free-market policies while adopting a more assertive rhetoric on foreign affairs. 'Lula has delivered his economic policy to Wall Street, and his foreign policy to the [leftist] Workers' Party,'' Foreign Policy magazine editor Moisés Naím says.
Da Silva has been showered with praise by U.S. officials and international bankers, who note that the leftist leader has moved aggressively to reduce budget deficits, impose fiscal discipline and create an independent Central Bank. In addition, going against the will of part of his Workers' Party, da Silva is trying to pass pro-market pension, tax and labor reforms through the Brazilian Congress.
While playing a friendly host to Castro and Chávez, da Silva has made sure not to give ammunition to U.S. ultraconservatives who fear the emergence of a Brazil-Venezuela-Cuba ''axis of evil.'' In a little-noticed speech quoted by Brazil's news magazine Veja, Lula said recently, ``I'm fed up with Latin American presidents who blame the disgraces of the Third World on [U.S.] imperialism. That's stupid.''
Gutiérrez, the former coup-plotter who rules Ecuador, also has been much more pragmatic than anticipated. Despite his campaign pledges not to take any socially painful economic measures, Gutiérrez felt compelled to increase gasoline prices and utility bills to balance the budget, and he started negotiations for new loans from the International Monetary Fund.
On foreign affairs, Gutiérrez surprised U.S. officials by saying after his visit to Washington in March that he wanted Ecuador to be the United States' ''best ally and friend'' in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism. More recently, Gutiérrez sided with U.S.-backed Colombian president Alvaro Uribe against Chávez in a regional proposal to solve Colombia's armed conflict.
''He has turned out to be an extraordinary surprise,'' a well-placed U.S. official said.
Judging from these and other political U-turns, growing numbers of U.S. foreign policy analysts are suggesting dropping the ''left'' and ''right'' labels when looking at Latin America, and instead gauging the new regional leaders based on whether they are pragmatists or populists.
''Maybe we have to change our labeling process,'' said Miguel Diaz, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a right-of-center think tank in Washington. ``If we stick to the left-versus-right labels, we fail to recognize that the issue boils down to being good at implementing policies.''
Old labels may be hard to discard, however. And if one has to gauge Latin America's political landscape using the traditional left-right measuring sticks, the conclusion is clear: The region has shifted to the left, but the left in most countries has shifted to the center.
9/11 is over, and the left needs to get back to work, after pausing to let us wave our flags for a couple of years, and play church for a little bit...
|We're On A Mission From God|
|Help us make our 3rd quarter fundraising goal in record time!|
I think this author has it backwards. Latin America has leaned socialist for as long as most of us have been around. Pinochet in Chile was a notable exception, but he came to power via a coup, and wasn't exactly the image most want as the face of conservatism.
If there was a swing to the right recently, it was a momentary anomoly.
The "Great Awakening" that wasn't.
That's a very disturbing "center."