Monday, December 04, 2006

Latin America: Continent of the Left

An already out of date map I found. Color Nicaragua and ecuador rojo as well!

Check out the timely opinion piece from the Guardian UK saying more eloquently what I was trying to say below about how the US should react to the recent events.

Monday December 4, 2006

At opposite ends of the continent, two old men whose very different careers defined an era in Latin America are nearing their ends. In Chile, the 91-year-old Augusto Pinochet was yesterday just holding on to life after heart surgery. In Cuba, Fidel Castro was absent because of illness, thought to be serious, from the military parade staged to celebrate his 80th birthday. If General Pinochet survives, he will return to house arrest on charges relating to two of the many thousands of deaths that marked his years as dictator in Chile. If President Castro recovers, few think it likely that he will take an active role in government again. Their importance is now above all symbolic. Without suggesting any false equivalence between the two, for Mr Castro is obviously by far the greater figure, they embody the years of harsh confrontation across Latin America, a confrontation deepened and darkened by the decisions and policies of a United States ready to embrace almost any course to prevent a continental victory for the forces of the left.

There is no question in a general way as to whose legacy has prevailed. Rightwing dictatorship and military rule have long disappeared from the Latin American scene. Left-of-centre governments, many of them explicitly cherishing their links with Cuba, now outnumber right-of-centre administrations. Even where conservative candidates have prevailed in elections, a notable shift is discernible. That has been evident during the presidential campaign in Venezuela, where the opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, has been in the barrios pitching for the support of poor and indigenous people in a way that would have been unimaginable in an earlier period in the country's politics. Hugo Chávez, the incumbent president, is the man whose victory eight years ago is seen as the moment when a red tide began to wash over the continent's political landscape. Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Tabaré Vasquez in Uruguay, and Evo Morales in Bolivia followed. The tide was checked in Mexico this summer where a leftwing candidate fell just short of victory in a contest he and his followers are still energetically disputing, and in Peru, where the left also failed. But it began to swell again with Daniel Ortega's victory in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa's in Ecuador. If Mr Chávez wins handily in Venezuela, as is expected, his victory will be seen as consolidating the left's dominant position still further.

Pessimists like the political scientist and former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G Castañeda distinguish between a constructive moderate left, mainly in the southern part of the continent, and an irresponsible populist left to the north, of which Mr Chávez is, to them, the foremost example. Optimists counter that a degree of pragmatism characterises both kinds of governments, that there are strong links between them, that the oil companies are happier with their rule than they let on, and that capitalism is alive and well in all these countries.

They also note that the United States is sometimes reacting in ways that suggest accommodation is a possibility. George Bush this week sent a message of congratulations to Mr Correa, who welcomed the gesture. Raúl Castro, speaking at the Havana parade, stressed Cuba's readiness to resolve its disputes with the United States through negotiation. It is his second message in three weeks along these lines - and a settlement between Cuba and the United States would of course have continental significance. Mr Bush is probably not the man to do it, but more practical minds in Washington should think hard. It is difficult to see any alternative to left-of-centre rule in Latin America and, while some anxieties about democracy are reasonable, it is hard not to see hope in the continuing victories of movements that have brought huge numbers of hitherto excluded and marginalised people into politics.


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