Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

As US tilts right, South America turns ever more leftward (have we got something to learn from them?)

Elections Could Tilt Latin America Further to the Left -- By JUAN FORERO

In perhaps the quirkiest, most colorful of the many presidential campaigns gathering momentum in Latin America, Evo Morales, the Aymara Indian leader turned congressman, arrived in this mountain hamlet on a recent day, got out of his car a mile up the road and strode in like a conquering hero.

The town's fathers honored him Bolivian-style, placing a heavy wreath of potatoes, roses and green beans around his neck. Crowds of peasants amassed behind him, while a ceremonial escort of indigenous leaders led him across cobblestone streets to a field filled with thousands. There, Mr. Morales gave the kind of leftist speech that increasingly strikes a chord with Latin America's disenchanted voters, railing against privatization, liberalized trade and other economic prescriptions backed by the United States.

"If we win, not just Evo will be president, but the Quechua and Aymara will also be in the presidency," Mr. Morales said, referring to Bolivia's two largest Indian communities. "We are a danger for the rich people who sack our resources."

Mr. Morales, 46, a former llama herder and coca farmer who has a slight lead in the polls for the election on Dec. 18, offers what may be the most radical vision in Latin America, much to the dismay of the Bush administration.

But the sentiment extends beyond Bolivia. Starting on Dec. 11 in Chile, voters in 11 countries will participate in a series of presidential elections over the next year that could take Latin America further to the left than it already is.

Since a bombastic army colonel, Hugo Chávez, won office in Venezuela in 1998, three-quarters of South America has shifted to the left, though most countries are led by pragmatic presidents like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Néstor Kirchner in Argentina.

That decisive shift has a good chance of spreading to Bolivia, Ecuador and, for the first time in recent years, north of the Panama Canal. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega, are positioning themselves to win back the presidency they lost in 1990. Farther north, in Mexico, polls show that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a hard-charging leftist populist, may replace the business-friendly president, Vicente Fox, who is barred from another term.

Traditional, market-friendly politicians can still win in all these countries. But polls show a general leftward drift that could bring policies sharply deviating from longstanding American economic remedies like unfettered trade and privatization, better known as the Washington Consensus.

"The left is contesting in a very practical way for political power," said Jim Shultz, executive director of Democracy Center, a policy analysis group in Bolivia. "There's a common thread that runs through Lula and Kirchner and Chávez and Evo, and the left in Chile to a certain degree, and that thread is a popular challenge to the market fundamentalism of the Washington Consensus."

The shift has not been as striking as might by preferred by leaders like Mr. Chávez, whose open antagonism toward the United States is rare. Presidents like Mr. da Silva and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay practice the kind of fiscal restraints accepted by Wall Street.

Still, the prospects for a further turn to the left could signal a broad, popular distancing from the Bush administration, whose focus on fighting drugs and advocating for regional free trade have failed to generate much backing.

While the Bush administration may be pleased that its most trusted and important ally in Latin America, President Álvaro Uribe in Colombia, will probably win re-election in May, Washington's most fervent adversary, Mr. Chávez, is also expected to cruise to victory late next year.

And the left may mount a strong challenge in market-friendly Peru. There, a fiery nationalistic cashiered army officer, Ollanta Humala, who compares himself to Mr. Chávez, is now second in the polls to a conservative congresswoman.

No one, though, quite offers the up-by-the-bootstraps story that Mr. Morales does. He grew up poor in the frigid highlands. Four of his six siblings died young, he said. When the mining industry went bust, the family moved to Bolivia's coca-growing heartland, where Mr. Morales made his mark as a leader of the coca farmers, who cultivate a shiny green leaf that is the main component used to make cocaine.

That made him a pariah to the United States, which has bankrolled the army's effort to eradicate the crop. But under Mr. Morales's leadership, the cocaleros have fought back, paralyzing the country with road blockades and playing a role in uprisings that toppled two presidents in 20 months.

Now, Mr. Morales travels Bolivia's pockmarked mountain roads in a relentless campaign, blasting Andean music that heralds him ("We feel it, we feel it, Evo presidente," goes a standard line).

"One thing few people realize is how good a politician this man is," said Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University in Miami. "Evo has a tremendous political structure that he's built up over the last 20 years."

Mr. Morales vows to veer Bolivia away from liberalized trade and privatizations that have marked the country's economy for a generation, tapping into the discontent of voters upset that market reforms did little to improve their lives.

Michael Shifter, who tracks Latin American campaigns for the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said, "Evo is the expression of that frustration, that resentment and the search for answers."

In interviews on the campaign trail, Mr. Morales complained that open borders had brought in cheap potatoes from Argentina. He offers a range of solutions, like loans to microbusinesses and the formation of more cooperatives. He also says his government will demand a bigger take from the foreign corporations developing Bolivia's large natural gas reserves.

Mr. Morales seems to relish talking about the United States, noting that criticisms from American officials have helped his popularity in an increasingly nationalistic country. Mr. Morales, who is close to Mr. Chávez and has called Fidel Castro's Cuba a model, says he will reject American-imposed economic principles and policies like the eradication of coca. "The policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, under the direction of the United States government, which concentrate capital in few hands, is not a solution," he said. "Western development is the development of death."

Such talk resonates with people like Herminio López, a leader in the hamlet of Piusilla. "We are sure he will not defraud or fool us, like all the others," he said. "Eighty percent of us are poor, and for us to have someone like him makes us proud."

Mr. Morales knows well what appeals to his supporters. Aside from an economic transformation, he promises symbolic proposals like changing the Bolivian flag to include elements of the indigenous flag of the Andes.

"This moment is not just for Evo Morales," Mr. Morales told the crowd here in Morochata. "It is for all of us."


Post a Comment

<< Home