April 5, 2006
The populist candidate in the upcoming elections in Peru, Ollanta Humala, uttered more menacing words in an interview with the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 (in Spanish). He warned that if conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is elected, the same thing would happen in Peru as elsewhere in Latin America: a popular uprising by poor people to forcibly overthrow the president. It is a possible outcome, but everything I remain convinced that Peruvian state institutions are more solid than those in Bolivia and Ecuador, and respect for authority is correspondingly much stronger. Perhaps to allay fears that his implied threat might prompt, Humala identified himself as a nationalist, like Charles DeGaulle (!), disavowing any ideological inclination toward either the Left or the Right, but of course, that's what they all say. He made it clear that he looks forward to working with the "progressive" (leftist) leaders that have come to power elsewhere in South American in recent years. He also denied having taken part in any torture or human rights violations when he was a military commander during the war against the Shining Path in the early 1990s, while downplaying the need for amnesty. In addition, he declared his intention to review the environmentally controversial Camisea natural gas pipeline contract, in which Argentine firms have invested. Finally, he said he aspires to good relations with the United States, but insists that there be a distinction between growing coca leaves and producing cocaine. That, of course, echoes the policy of President Evo Morales in Bolivia.
As the Inter-American Development Bank holds its annual meeting in Brazil, Evo Morales is proposing that Bolivia's debt to that bank be wiped off the books, along with the debts of the other poor countries in Latin America: Haiti, Honduras, Guyana, and Nicaragua. Bolivia is the biggest debtor to the IADB. See BBC. Since the late 1970s, Bolivia has ranked among the most deeply indebted countries in the world, and its aggregate debt burden is often more than half of its entire gross domestic product. Substantial progress was made in reducing that burden during the 1990s, as the country's economy enjoyed a boom thanks to sound monetary and fiscal policies as well open trade policies. There was lingering resentment over the distribution of those benefits, however, eventually exploding into the populist backlash that brought Evo Morales to power. Unless Morales changes course and becomes more pragmatic as Jaime Paz and other left-of-center leaders in Bolivia, there is a great risk that all of the sacrifices endured by Bolivian people during the years of stabilization and adjustment will have been utterly wasted. Back to the drawing board...
My basic position on Third World debt relief is that any such campaign should be at the grass-roots level, not involving sovereign governments. If you want U.S. banks to forgive debts to poor countries, tell your own bank that you will be glad to absorb your share of the loss if they agree to do so. It may seem like a trivial gesture, but it carries a lot more meaning than some protest sign.
In the New York Post, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris claims that Hugo Chavez is pouring millions of dollars into the campaign of leftist candidate Angel Manuel Lopez Obrador. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) recently informed Mexican legislators about intelligence reports he received to that effect. Given the clear ambitions of Chavez to lead a continent-wide bloc against the United States, it would be surprising if he were not providing financial support to the Mexican Left. If Chavez doesn't start showing some restraint, he is going to offend the otherwise friendly nationalistic leaders in Brazil and Argentina, which because of their great size and stage of economic development, regard themselves as the "proper" leaders of the region. The same is true of Mexico, but it is less involved in South American affairs.
According to the pro-democracy blog Publius Pundit Felipe Calderón (of the conservative PAN) is four percentage points ahead of "AMLO" (of the PRD) in the latest polls, for whatever that's worth.