Friday, June 09, 2006

Latin America's Historic Election

The Investor's Business Daily reports on Colombia's historic presidential election:

Colombia's re-election of Alvaro Uribe not only stands conventional wisdom on its head about Latin voters' rejection of free markets. It also proves that democracy lives south of our border.

Most pundits don't have a lot to say about Uribe's sweeping victory... other than it's an anomaly in a region supposedly swinging left. That misses the point.

Colombia's voters had choices. But they went for Uribe's bold resolve against terror, and for tax cuts, free trade pacts and a no-apologies friendship with the U.S.

Throw in proven leadership, plus a growing and diversified economy, and it was no wonder Uribe had huge appeal. Sixty-two percent of Colombia's voters backed him; just 22% went for his nearest rival. The landslide not only exceeded predictions. It also was bigger than his 54% victory in 2000. And it was the first time in 98 years that anyone has been re-elected president in Colombia.

The article proceeds to improve on "conventional wisdom" by analyzing political trends in Latin America:

[Uribe's re-election is] embarrassing to pundits who insist that free markets and democracy are not what Latin Americans want. This victory took place in a region supposedly veering dangerously left — and where pork-barrel populism is said to be all the rage.


Changing times and increased globalization have brought out many new political parties in Latin America. But there are three distinct political trends.

There are Reaganesque free marketers such as Uribe, Antonio Saca of El Salvador and, more dimly, Vicente Fox of Mexico.

They seek to end poverty not by ladling soup into every bowl, but by fostering private-sector growth. They are balancing budgets, simplifying rules, forcing transparency, breaking up monopolies and encouraging new businesses.

Sadly, these leaders are often dismissed as "far right" and thus out of touch with "the people." But they keep winning elections. Along with understanding free markets, this group often makes security a priority, based on the legacy of wars as well as citizen revulsion at violent crime. And it is America-friendly.

The second trend is described as the "soft socialism" of the current leaders of Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile, who are often wrongly combined with the likes of Cuba's Castro and Venezuela's Castro-with-oil.

The third political force is the anti-democratic populist left led by quasi-dictators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

This movement hides behind the veneer of socialism, but has virtually nothing in common with it. It equates growth with pork-barrel spending, declares the private sector the enemy, can't distinguish party from government, divides a nation into loyalists and traitors, abuses foreign investors and in the end seeks to collectivize the population into total dependency.

The model here is Fidel Castro's Cuba, and it seemed to have the momentum. Uribe's impressive election, however, is giving the pundits pause.

I'm not sure that it ever had "momentum" outside of the media, and then only by greatly oversimplifying and relying on erroneous "conventional wisdom."

We'll know a lot more after voters in Peru and Mexico go to the polls... More conservative candidates (like Uribe) stand a good chance of winning.

If they do, the Castros and Chavezes won't seem nearly so ascendant.

The moderate, anti-Chavez candidate won Peru's presidency earlier this week.

(AP) Alan Garcia staged a remarkable comeback in Peru's runoff election, beating a fiery nationalist backed by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to regain control of the country 16 years after his first presidential term ended in economic ruin and rebel violence.

"I want our party this time to demonstrate to the Peruvian people, who have called it to the highest responsibilities, that it will not convert the state into booty," Garcia said, referring to widespread corruption that marked his first term from 1985-90, when tens of thousands of party members landed state jobs.

Garcia said voters in Sunday's runoff had sent an overwhelming message to Chavez, the anti-American leader of Venezuela. They rejected the "strategy of expansion of a militaristic, retrograde model that he has tried to impose in South America," Garcia said.

Chavez had endorsed Ollanta Humala, a political upstart many Peruvians saw as dangerous to democracy. He extended his regional influence last year with the election of a loyal ally, Evo Morales, as Bolivia's president. Like Morales, Humala had pledged to punish a corrupt political establishment and redistribute wealth to his country's poor Indian and mestizo majority.


Chavez was sharply criticized in Peru for meddling in the presidential campaign, prompting a diplomatic spat in which both countries have withdrawn their ambassadors.

Garcia adroitly turned the race into a referendum on Chavez, depicting Humala as an aspiring despot who would fall into lockstep with the Venezuelan's populist economics and Cuba-friendly anti-Americanism. Chavez in turn called Garcia "a genuine thief, a demagogue, a liar."

Mexico votes July 2nd.

The conservative tied for first place in Mexico's presidential race said on Thursday he would counter the influence of U.S. foe Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Latin America if elected.

Felipe Calderon told Reuters he wanted Mexico, which has close trade ties with the United States, to play a more active role in the region.

"It is going to be a factor of deliberation, balance and good sense compared to the leadership and active policies, to give them their polite name, of Hugo Chavez," Calderon said.


Mexico and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors from each other's countries last year in a dispute after Chavez called Mexican President Vicente Fox a "lap dog" of Washington.

With the frequent accusations of U.S. "imperialism," I think Mr. Garcia put it best:
"Our homeland's independent destiny was at stake here, threatened by total domination and imperialism," Garcia told supporters Sunday night. "Imperialism does not come only from great powers but also from nearby domination, by those who seek to subordinate and steer us because they have wealth."
For more on foreign policy in Latin America, I recommend a review of last November's OAS summit, "Bush 29, Chavez 5" (Investor's Business Daily, Nov. 7, 2005).

Update, July 7: Calderon appears to win in Mexico, 65% vote against Obrador, the leftist candidate.

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