by Chris Kulczycki
Sun Dec 11th, 2005 at 09:09:52 AM EST
[Update] Michelle Bachelet wins Chilean Presidency. See the comments.
The US and Latin America have little in common beyond geography and the US's long history of aggression and domination. The US has sent troops to Latin America 87 times according to Instances of Use of Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2001 and other sources. We may never know how many times the US has interfered there covertly, how many assassinations we have paid for, how many governments we've toppled.
But the tide is turning. The spirit of Che Guevara, the charismatic revolutionary leader who is still a hero and an inspiration to many Latin Americans, is gaining strength. Our neighbors to the south are again rejecting US interference, telling Bush and the neo-cons to go to hell. They are turning to the left and telling the gringos "adios". Developments on several fronts show how Bush's belligerence has cost the US what little good will remained in Latin America. What happens in the next 12 months may change the continent. Presidential elections will be held in 11 Latin American countries over the next year. And in several of those countries leftist, anti-Bush, anti-Washington candidates are favored.
Of course, we all know that Latin America already has its share of anti-Bush leaders. Venezuela's populist Hugo Chavez is chief among these. Likewise there is Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva. Cuba's Castro has been a thorn not just in Bush's side, but in that of every president since Kennedy. Argentina's Nestor Kirchner may be the most dangerous to the neo-cons, because he is showing the developing world that it can, and should, reject the IMF and the neoliberal Washington consensus. And more such leaders are on the way.
Among the most charismatic of these candidates is Bolivia's Evo Morales, who the New York Times has called the new Che Guevara. Morales is a former llama herder and coca farmer who would de-legalize coca and force multi-national oil companies to renegotiate contracts or leave. He has a slight lead in the polls for the Dec. 18 election. His victory would be a major blow to the Bush administration.
From the New York Times Magazine (via Truthout):
Unlike Che, who was a kind of revolutionary soldier of fortune, Morales does not have to adopt the revolutionary cause of Bolivia. He was born into it 46 years ago, in a tin-mining town in the district of Oruro, high in the Bolivian altiplano. Morales's family history is similar to that of many mining families who lost their jobs in the 1970's and 1980's, when the mines closed, and migrated to the Bolivian lowlands to become farmers, above all of coca leaf. ...As an adolescent and a young man, Morales was a coca farmer, but his political work on behalf of the cocaleros soon propelled him into the leadership of a coalition of radical social movements that constitute the base of the MAS party.
How seriously to take Morales's tough talk about drug "depenalization" and nationalization of natural resources - oil, gas and the mines - is the great question in Bolivian politics today. Many Bolivian observers say they believe that MAS is nowhere near as radical as its rhetoric makes it appear. They note that conservative opponents of Brazil's current leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also predicted disaster were he to be elected, but that in office Lula has proved to be a moderate social democrat....-snip-
Morales has become almost as much of a bugbear to the Bush administration and many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as Chávez or Castro. And for his part, Morales seems to revel in the role. At the summit meeting of the Organization of American States held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, earlier this month, he appeared with Chávez at a huge anti-American and anti-globalization rally just before the meetings began. The two men spoke in front of a huge image of Che Guevara....
For most Bolivians, globalization, or what they commonly refer to as neoliberalism, has failed so utterly to deliver the promised prosperity that some Bolivian commentators I met insisted that what is astonishing is not the radicalization of the population but rather the fact that this radicalization took as long as it did. Bolivia often seems now like a country on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Every day, peasants or housewives or the unemployed erect hundreds of makeshift roadblocks to protest shortages of fuel (a particularly galling affront in a country with vast hydrocarbon resources) or to demand increased subsidies for education or to air any of the dozens of issues that have aroused popular anger. The language of these protests is insistently, defiantly leftist, with ritual denunciations of multinational corporations, of the United States and of the old Bolivian elite, who are white, mostly descendants of Spanish and German settlers....
Bolivia has considerable oil reserves and, far more crucially, has the second-largest proved reserves of natural gas in South America after Venezuela - some 54 trillion cubic feet. Talk to ordinary Bolivians, and it often seems as if their profound rage and despair over what is taking place in their country is at least partly due to the gap between Bolivia's natural riches and the poverty of its people. "We shouldn't be poor" is the way Morales put it to me...
In Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador the leftist mayor of Mexico City leads in the presidential race. Though he may not be as much of a leftist as many Americans believe, he seems certain to reject many neo-liberal policies.
From The Economist:
Mr López Obrador rejects the comparisons with Hugo Chávez or Lula. "You can't put it like that. Each country has its own history...I'm neither a populist nor a neo-liberal but a humanist," he says vaguely. He slams the economic policy of the past two decades as a "failure" that has delivered "zero per capita growth". (In fact, per capita income has grown since 1982, but at an unimpressive rate of around 0.5% a year.) But he told The Economist that he would maintain Mr Fox's strict macro-economic policy ("you can't have deficits") while cutting wasteful spending on the bureaucracy and reassigning it to public works. He rules out throwing open Mexico's state energy monopolies to private investment. But he says that he would lighten the tax burden on Pemex, the oil firm, to allow it to invest more, so that "in three years" the country would be self-sufficient in gas and petrol. He would respect NAFTA but seek to add "co-operation for development" to free trade in goods.
In Central America, the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega, are positioning themselves to win back the Nicaraguan presidency they lost in 1990. Opinion polls suggest that Ortega may be one of the strongest candidates in the November 2006 elections.
Yes, that is John Kerry.
In Chile today's election favors Michelle Bachelet, a socialist. Storiesinamerica already has a good post up about her.
Here's a bit more from the Boston Globe:
''I'm agnostic. . . . I believe in the state," Bachelet told several groups of evangelical ministers last week. ''I believe the state has an important role in guaranteeing the diversity of men and women in Chile -- their different spiritualities, philosophies, and ways of life."
Bachelet, 54, a socialist running in national elections today, has a strong chance of becoming Chile's first female head of state -- and thus the first woman in South America to be elected to the top national office without replacing a deceased or disabled husband.
As a single mother, Bachelet is a symbol of change in a country so culturally conservative that it legalized divorce only last year. As both the child of a military family and a victim of prison and torture under the former military dictatorship, she is also a symbol of healing in a country long divided by ideology, class, and competing versions of a tumultuous recent history.
Running against two conservative male candidates, Bachelet has maintained a commanding lead in the polls, even while openly airing personal details that she thinks represent Chile's shifting cultural landscape.
Ollanta Humala, a former army officer who compares himself to Chávez, is gaining ground and is now second in the polls in Peru.
That's Ollanta Humala in the center. From the Miami Herald:
Short, compact and of Indian descent, the 43-year-old Humala envisions himself as the socialist Chavez' ideological soulmate, attacking the Bush administration's free-trade policies and opposing some coca eradication programs.
He also shares something of the Venezuelan's background as an army lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in 1992. A lieutenant colonel himself, Humala was arrested in 2000 after he led a small army uprising in 2000, in the waning days of President Alberto Fujimori's rule. -snip-
Like the leftist Evo Morales in neighboring Bolivia, one of two front-runners for the presidency there, Humala diametrically opposes U.S. policies in Latin America and wants to subsidize national industries and limit investments by foreign companies in key sectors.
And like Morales, Humala is the subject of widespread rumors that he receives financial assistance from the oil-rich Chávez. He denies receiving any aid, and no one has been able to prove him a liar.
In Costa Rica, the front-runner is ex-president Oscar Arias (1986-1990), on the centre-left.
Brazil,s, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may loose the presidency due to ongoing corruption scandals. Social democrat José Serra is a good bet be his successor.
In Colombia, one of Bush's few remaining allies, rightwing President Alvaro Uribe look like he'll be reelected.
In another sort of election, Venezuela has been accepted into Mercosur, a South American trading zone composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela, with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador,and Peru as associate members. But Mercosur is also widely seen as a rejection of to the US dominated FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). And Chavez, Venezuela's president, promises politicize the organization. From the Financial Times:
Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's radical president, led his country into Mercosur yesterday, vowing to inject a strong dose of politics into the languishing South American customs union.
"We have to politicise Mercosur," he said in Montevideo, Uruguay, at a meeting of the group's leaders convened to mark Venezuela's formal entry into the trade bloc. "We cannot allow this to be purely an economic project, one for the elites and for the transnational companies."
Mr Chávez's remarks are likely to cause angst among hardliners in Washington, who already eye Venezuela's growing influence with concern. The country is one of the world's largest oil producers and it has used windfall revenues from high oil prices to assert its weight in the region.
Venezuela's entry marks the first expansion of Mercosur, which comprises Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, since it was established in 1991.
Mercosur leaders welcomed Venezuela's incorporation. President Néstor Kirchner of Argentina said it was "a milestone". President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said the expansion of Mercosur would "open a new chapter in our integration".
Will we see most of South America opposed to the United States? Will the Monroe doctrine finally be buried? Will Latin America proclaim that it has more in common with Europe and Asia than the US? Only time and the CIA will tell.
Viva La Revolution!