Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Pinochet's ghost could still haunt Latin America

Voters across the region have looked to the left for an economic change, but their democracies remain very fragile

By Rodrigo Pardo

The death of General Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former military dictator, provides perhaps an appropriate end for a year that saw the Latin American left return to glory, a revival of which President Hugo Chavez's overwhelming re-election in Venez-uela is but the strongest sign. For unlike in the days of Pinochet, fear of the left has mostly vanished across the continent.

Indeed, the left has won in countries in which it has previously never held power. Despite the fact that the victories of Felipe Calderon in Mexico, Alvaro Uribe in Colombia and Alan Garcia in Peru put a stop to a supposed tsunami of socialist victories, the trend toward the left is unmistakable.

Chavez is no longer a lonely populist. In the Andean region, he is accompanied by two clones that are reheating his recipes -- Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. In the rest of the continent, the other left -- the one deemed reliable by Wall Street and London bankers -- will not join Chavez's postures, but neither will it join a crusade to unseat him.

This other left, however, is not radical. The return to power from the political wilderness of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Alan Garcia in Peru, two of the most demonized enemies of US foreign policy during the 1980s, provides sardonic testimony to this. Ortega won thanks to an alliance with the heirs of Nicaragua's old dictator Anastasio Somoza. His only ideology nowadays is Ortega. Garcia defeated Ollanta Humala, who would have presumably joined the drift toward Chavez.

That the Latin American right can sleep at night despite this leftward tide is not merely the result of communism's disappearance, nor does it mean that the US has given up its hegemonic intentions. The explanation lies in the fact that much of today's left is not the left as we have known it.

Instead, today's left looks at growth, fiscal discipline and competitiveness with pragmatism, and not as ideological red flags. Its economic proposals do not define its character -- it feels at ease with policies such as those followed by Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva during his first term or those implemented by the socialist presidents Ricardo Lagos and Michele Bachelet in Chile. Easy applause can no longer be had by attacking big business or the IMF.

Yet there is a frontier between today's left and right, and it is found in the realm of social issues -- same-sex couples and marriages, religious freedom, abortion and female equality. These matters have been increasing in importance, and are inciting a clash between the political forces that have just come to power and their conservative opposition.

Foreign affairs also forms another divide. The Latin American left does not share US President George W. Bush's view of the world. On global issues, it has not backed the US in the Iraq war, it does not tolerate the US disdain for multilateralism and it is unwilling to join the anti-terror crusade.

In Latin American affairs, it balks at the Free Trade Area of the Americas and generally wants relations with the US that allow it to promote their local initiatives. Right leaning rulers such as Uribe still like to speak about their special relationship with Bush or their backing of his foreign policy. Lula and others on the left mostly prefer to hold their tongues.

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