March 17, 2009
Yet another Latin American country has taken a sharp turn toward the left. Mauricio Funes of El Salvador's former Marxist rebel party (the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN) has won the country's presidential election by a very thin margin, 51%-49%. He defeated Rodrigo Avila, a former chief of the National Police and head of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Funes is a former television news anchor, and this was his first campaign for public office. During the campaign, Funes compared himself to Barack Obama, calling for "change" and national unity. He denied charges that his government would become a pawn of Venezuela, or that he would be controlled by FMLN bosses, and he pledged to pursue good relations with the United States. Funes also tried hard to allay fears among the propertied classes. The Washington Post quoted him as saying,
Nothing traumatizing is going to happen here. ... There will be no confiscation, we will not reverse any privatizations. We will not jeopardize private property. There is no reason at this moment for fear.
For his part, the losing candidate Avila pledged to carry out a "vigilant and constructive opposition." Any time political power changes hands in a country that has a recent memory of civil war, people are bound to get nervous. So far, it seems that Funes is serious about not doing anything to risk going back to the days of widespread political violence.
Since Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1999, ten more Latin American countries have elected leftist candidates to be president. In some cases they are moderates, such as Alan Garcia of Peru, and in some cases they are radicals such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador. (See the Latin America Presidents page, newly updated.) The next election in Latin America will be in Panama, this coming May.
The president of Brazil, "Lula" da Silva, paid a visit to Washington on Saturday, and met Pres. Obama for the first time. They talked about trade and energy issues as they both get ready for the G-20 summit on April 2 in London, and the Summit of the Americas, to be held in mid-April in Trinidad and Tobago. The two national leaders are virtual soul-mates, blending a strong devotion to leftist ideology on behalf of poor people, while carrying out their duties in a pragmatic, cautious way. Brazil's economy remains solid, in spite of the financial turmoil, but that could be an effect of the recent discovery of large oil deposits off Brazil's Atlantic coast. The future looks bright for them. For some reason, da Silva's visit received scant coverage in the mainstream media. See whitehouse.gov.
Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Chile and Costa Rica from March 27-30 in preparation for the Summit of the Americas. See whitehouse.gov.