July 6, 2006
With all of the votes in Mexico now officially tabulated, the conservative candidate, Felipe Calderon is the apparent victor, with a slight lead -- 35.88% to 35.31% -- over the leftist-populist, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. "AMLO" remains determined to contest the vote count, however, and a possible rejectionist quasi-rebellion modeled on Al Gore in 2000 poses a real threat to stability in our southern neighbor. See Washington Post and/or BBC. The possibility of irregularities cannot be denied, but widespread manipulation seems unlikely. The only organization in a position to pull something like that, PRI, came in third place and would have no reason to do so. This is almost certainly Mexico's cleanest election in history, a vast improvement over how things were done in the 1980s and before. Isn't it something how people's expectations always seem to outpace the actual improvement in social and political institutions?
A caller on Rush Limbaugh this week made an astute observation: All ballots in Mexico are in Spanish only, effectively disenfranchising (or so some people would claim) millions of Mexicans who speak only Indian languages such as Nahuatl.
Less than three months after withdrawing from the Andean Group to express displeasure with free trade agreements signed by Peru and Colombia with the United States (see April 23), Venezuela has joined MERCOSUR, the economic alliance led by Brazil and Argentina. See BBC. They will probably end up regretting having admitted such a hot head into their group. Business leader Jose Luis Betancourt said that Venezuela's government "has made a decision in which geopolitical criteria have prevailed over economic criteria." Actually, MERCOSUR has always had a strong geopolitical motivation behind it, as Brazil and Argentina sought to offset U.S. hegemony in the early post-Cold War era.
Earlier this week, Chavez met with Iran's President Ahmadinejad in a summit of the African Union in Cairo, expressing support for the latter's defiant posture on nuclear technology. See Washington Post. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Chavez intends to use the windfall revenues from soaring oil prices to begin a nuclear energy program in Venezuela -- for purely economic purposes, of course.
A modest-scale arms race seems to be underway in Latin America, especially in terms of military aviation. The budget-minded governments are acquiring second-hand equipment for the most part. Chile bought ten used F-16s from the United States and 18 more from the Netherlands; see December 28. This is partly because of regional tensions stoked by Hugo Chavez, but the worn-out condition of most of its military aircraft is the main factor in some cases. Colombia, Argentina, are actively shopping for new fighters, while Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay may do so in the near future. Venezuela and Mexico (surprisingly) have been offered Sukhoi Su-27 fighter-bombers from Russia. See Strategy Page.