April 27, 2006
One of the great puzzles about Latin America is whether the shift toward radical populism over the past few years is enduring in nature, or if it represents nothing more than a passing phase. Answering that question will have to wait for another day. The adjacent map, which is found on the Current situation page, is a first stab at depicting the current ideological orientation of the presidents of Latin America. It is subject to revision, as usual, and there will be similar maps for preceding years in the future.
The BBC has a background piece on the topic of whether the leftward turn is truly radical or not. It was written by Emilio San Pedro, a BBC reporter who interviewed activists in various countries, and the findings remind us that reality is often more complex than can be expressed in a newspaper headline. Some of the people working for Hugo Chavez, for example, are dedicated Marxists, while some of those in the nominally socialist governments in Brazil and Chile are much more pragmatic in their approach. The article reminds us that most of the protests against the IMF, neoliberalism, and U.S. imperialism are purely pro forma, a way for people to vent their frustrations in life, even if it doesn't reflect what they really believe. It's always a good idea to take such rhetoric with a grain of salt.
A similar, rather nuanced analysis of Latin American trends was made by Michael Barone in the Washington Times. He notes that some countries in Latin America are resisting Hugo Chavez's pied piper march toward radical populism. (hat tip to Chris Green)
The news chronologies on the Argentina, Brazil and Guatemala pages are now up to date. Others to follow in short order.
Even if reality is often less troubling than the daily headlines suggest, there are still a number of disturbing things taking place. Echoing Hugo Chavez's announcement that Venezuela would withdraw from the Andean Community (see Apr. 23), Bolivia's Economy Minister Luis Arce said that his country would do likewise if Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador do not rescind free-trade agreements they signed with the United States. See CNN.com. Lacking much experience in politics, Evo Morales may be susceptible to the lure of Hugo Chavez even though his agenda is much more local in nature, namely, pushing for social justice on behalf of the Indian majority.
Typical of his head-spinning alternation between crude demagoguery and pious statesmanlike pronouncements, Hugo Chavez now says he would like to engage in a serious dialogue with U.S. diplomats. For whatever that's worth, see CNN.com