Friday, June 03, 2005

Opposition to U.S. Makes Chávez a Hero to Many

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters
NY Times

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, May 31 - When President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela arrived at the World Social Forum in Brazil in January, he was greeted with thunderous cries of "Here comes the boss!"

And in Buenos Aires, crowds mobbed Mr. Chávez when he showed up to inaugurate Venezuela's first state-owned gas station in the Argentine capital, part of a food-for-oil deal popular with Argentines.

It is the kind of public adoration that brings to mind another Latin American leader, Fidel Castro, who for more than 45 years has drawn accolades wherever he has gone, much to Washington's chagrin. Now, it seems, the torch is being passed, and it is Mr. Chávez who is emerging as this generation's Castro - a charismatic figure and self-styled revolutionary who bearhugs his counterparts on state visits, inspires populist left-wing movements and draws out fervent well-wishers from Havana to Buenos Aires.

"He's following his own path, his own destiny, and he's doing it against U.S. opposition, so the Latin Americans support it," said Wayne Smith, a former American diplomat in Cuba and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, which tracks developments in Latin America. "That's sort of the reaction, and it plays toward his advantage in the region."

Mr. Chávez is also riding a wave of popular reaction in the region against the "Washington consensus" of democracy and open markets that the White House, for the moment, seems unable to dampen. While few leaders in Latin America are as provocatively anti-American as Mr. Chávez, three-quarters of South America is governed by left-of-center presidents, and next year Mexico may well elect a leftist populist of its own, Mexico City's mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

In a recent, coordinated set of surveys conducted across Latin America by a consortium of polling firms, President Bush was given a 26 percent approval rating - lower even than the much reviled International Monetary Fund....(more)

A rare honest article on Chavez as his rich enemies are sharpening their knives. One correction though: The rejection of the Washington Consensus is not a rejeciton of democracy (free markets yes). It is a call for a deeper, more participatory-style of democracy that looks beyond just having elections every 4 years and stresses the people's input on ALL decisions from the smallest (neighborhood issues) to biggest (drafting the Constitution).


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