Thu, Jan 31, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Venezuelan chaos unites new right in Latin America

By Mac Margolis  /  Bloomberg Opinion

From tariffs to tyrants, the nations of Latin America do not often see the world the same way. So the gathering outcry over the accelerating emergency in Venezuela, followed by recognition that enfeebled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro must go, stands out.

Only a handful of left-wing leaders dissented when countries across the Americas dropped the customary indulge-thy-neighbor diplomacy to recognize National Assembly President Juan Guaido as temporary Venezuelan president.

Dubious honors to Bolivian President Evo Morales who declared solidarity with Maduro and decried the “claws of imperialism” that would yank him from power.

That lonely howl says a good deal about the shifting political mood in Latin America, where leftist national leadership is being washed away by a rising and still transforming political tide from the right.

Discontents see this wave as a recrudescence from an authoritarian past, when Latin America was the object of superpower avarice and designs. The new blue tide has many banners, from aggressive evangelical Christian conservatism to disruptive capitalism, but the Venezuelan crisis suggests the broader change owes less to a new Cold War than a collapse of governability.

“This shift is in response to the management failure of the populist left in Latin American governments,” said political analyst Fernando Schuler, who teaches at the Sao Paulo business school Insper. “If redemocratization strengthened the left’s hold on politics, academia and the bureaucracy, now it’s the mainstream, pro-market agenda that has gathered strength.”

How Venezuela’s political calamity will end — a dictatorial backlash, civil war, Maduro fleeing to exile — is anyone’s guess. The larger riddle may prove to be how to restore order and prosperity to the shambolic economy.

This is where Venezuelan democrats, notwithstanding the formidable economic talent the opposition leaders have on speed dial, ought to take their cues from the accident-prone political reboot playing out across the Americas.

Latin America, after all, is the bane of governmental dream teams, as even the region’s functioning democracies have discovered. Argentina is a ward of the IMF, the transformative financial wizards Argentine President Mauricio Macri brought to office have long since cashiered.

Former Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, once the toast of Wall Street, fell to a corruption scandal, while Brazil’s alpha economists saw their ambitious policy makeover aborted and even their successful reforms eclipsed by former Brazilian president Michel Temer’s disgraced exit.

The “new Brazil” his successor, Jair Bolsonaro, flogged last week at the World Economic Forum — leaner government, lower taxes and a war on corruption — augurs well for a region hobbled by protectionism and government overreach. All these initiatives signal that Brazil too has taken a turn to the political right.

Just what sort of right wing will predominate in the region is a more difficult call. There is a lot of ideological daylight between the God, guns and no-quarter-for-criminals rant Bolsonaro fed to his conservative base during the campaign, and the free-market pieties he recited from the teleprompter in Davos, Switzerland. And no one knows what policies will drive Venezuela’s opposition if they come to office.

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