Fri, Jun 24, 2011 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: ‘Lulismo’ appeals in Latin America, but hard to copy


It was a political pilgrimage that surprised no one.

Within days of winning the presidential election, Peruvian president-elect Ollanta Humala flew to Brazil to learn more about its success over the past decade and meet former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who inspired Humala’s journey from the radical left toward the political center.

Humala’s election victory was the latest sign that Lula’s mix of market-friendly policies and social programs for the poor, credited with turning Brazil into an economic powerhouse, is going international. Call it the Brasilia Consensus, or “Lulismo.”

Lula, a former union boss, established an enviable electoral formula by dramatically reducing poverty in his eight years in power while pleasing Wall Street and lifting Brazil into the league of emerging powers like China and India.

Leftist Salvadorean President Mauricio Funes won El Salvador’s presidency in 2009 at the head of a party of former Marxist guerrillas after convincing enough middle-class voters that he was inspired by Lula rather than socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

One of Lula’s leading election marketers even helped him craft his campaign, and other former advisers to Lula’s party helped Humala fine tune his campaign message in Peru.

In South America, several leaders have opted to take the Lula path — most notably Uraguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla who was elected in 2009.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has also steered clear of copying the more radical leftist policies of the region since his election in 2008.

Pointing to the Lula model is now smart politics for any left-wing candidate in Latin America looking to ease voters’ concerns that he or she might be too radical.

“Lula represents the mature, modern left of the 21st century — pro-market, pro-investment and pro-social inclusion,” said Yehude Simon, a former hardcore leftist who served as prime minister under Peruvian President Alan Garcia.

For many, the Lula model offers a way to please the poor and investors at the same time.

“Brazil is the lodestar, the reference for a lot of governments as an example of success,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

Still, copying the Lula formula is easier said than done, as Humala may discover in the coming months.

Lula’s two-term presidency — which ended on Jan. 1 when his hand-picked successor, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, was sworn in — was built on a long journey to the political center by his Workers’ Party, a sustained boom in global commodities prices and his own magnetic charisma.

In contrast, Humala’s embrace of center-left policies came much later and his party lacks the institutional strength of the Workers’ Party in Brazil. Peru — which has a departing government that had center-right policies in line with countries such as Chile, Colombia and Mexico — has a tiny budget that limits its ability to help poor, rural areas.

“Any emulation is going to face serious limitations,” said Matias Spektor, an international relations professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a think tank in Rio de Janeiro. “That said, what Humala seems to be doing is realizing that there is a message for progressive parties in the region that you do need financial stability with some degree of redistribution. It’s not about people on the street fighting the old elite, it’s about minimal-level redistribution.”

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