Peru Election 2006

The archived version

Pink tide rising

with one comment

Maxwell A. Cameron
Comment is free…
December 5, 2006 09:58 PM

The Latin American left must be allowed to find new solutions to the region’s political and social problems.

A pink tide continues to rise across Latin America. Two leaders friendly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were elected in November. The victory of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, in spite of blatant meddling by the United States embassy, was followed by an upset triumph by Rafael Correa in the second round of the presidential election in Ecuador.
Now, even more dramatically, Chavez has won a landslide re-election, extending his mandate to early 2013. With 78 percent of the votes counted, he has 61 percent of the popular vote–the highest of any presidential candidate in the last 50 years, and even higher than his support in the 2004 presidential recall referendum. The rate of abstention was the lowest of all the elections in which Chavez has run since 1998.
Chavez appears to have won throughout Venezuela, including opposition leader Manuel Rosales’ home state of Zulia. The media reported a high number of null votes in areas hostile to Chavez, but the wide margin of victory makes such irregularities unlikely to occasion destabilizing post-electoral conflict. “The process unfolded in a satisfactory manner,” said Rosales’ advisor Teodoro Petkoff, in spite of “a few incidents around the country.” OAS observers noted that the voting process was peaceful and without incident.
Although the shift to the left shows no sign of fizzling, it has been met with a mixture of caution and denial in some quarters. Moises Naim, in Foreign Policy, speaks of the “left turn that wasn’t.” Many of the left-wing presidents in the region have not delivered “on their more extreme campaign promises” claims Naim. In a revealing turn of phrase, he says “Latin America can’t compete on the world stage in any way, even as a threat.” The region can’t complete, presumably, for the attention of United States policy makers.
Conservative pundits are not about to jump to the conclusion that neoliberal policies espoused by Washington for the past two decades have contributed to the polarization that, in some cases, has resulted in electoral victories for the left. Carlos Moreno Brid and Igor Paunovic suggest , however, that a “key root behind the region’s shift to the left is the disappointing result of the economic reforms – inspired by the Washington Consensus – implemented by previous governments.” Claudio Lomnitz echos this, saying: “The neo-liberal era produced a deep fracture in every Latin American country between the segments of the population that thrived under free trade and the shrinking state, and those that were put at risk.” This rift divided many–but not all–countries into tiers: “the ‘deep nation’ versus the ‘fictional nation’; the oligarchy versus the pueblo.”
Naim also assumes that the left is inherently a threat to US interests. If not a threat, how could a government be left-wing? Yet some of the elected socialist leaders that were overthrown by the US in the past–Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, deposed by a CIA funded and organized expedition in 1954, and Salvador Allende in Chile, forced out of power in a CIA-backed coup in 1973–were scarcely more radical than Chavez or current Bolivian President Evo Morales. Their constitutional and democratic credentials were as impeccable as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Brazil’s Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva. But of course the context was different.
In light of the Chavez victory, one can only hope that Thomas Shannon, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, is sincere when he says that “regime change” is not part of his vocabulary. The US reaction to the victory of Chavez will be a test of whether the US can live peaceably and cooperatively with a region, long seen as its backyard, that has moved sharply out of its orb of influence. In awe at their own military might, a segment of the United States foreign policy establishment–and not just the neoconservatives–often succumbs to the belief that the US has a power that no nation or empire has ever had, or ever will have: the power to solve the problem of political order for others.
It is the problem of political order that the Latin American left must face squarely. It cannot hope to address poverty, inequality, economic underperformance, or social exclusion without reforming the state. The Latin American state is, with rare exceptions, both cruel and inefficient: cruel both in its capacity for violence and its indifference to suffering and human need; inefficient both in its inability to provide public goods or enforce the rule of law, and in its incapacity to translate public preferences into collectively desired outcomes.
Latin America’s most successful democracies–Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile–have all have made sustained investments in human development; they have created efficient public sector institutions based on the rule of law and the separation of powers; and they have sustained enduring political party and civil society organizations. These are orderly societies with functioning states, and they, more than the United States or Venezuela, represent the most reliable path to success.
The international community must back away from the imposition of rigid policy recipes and give the region latitude to experiment. When countries compete, they learn from each other. President Alan García has that Peru must treat Chile as a model to emulate and exceed, not an enemy to fight and defeat.
When countries quarrel, they conjure up a dismal Hobbesian world of repetitive conflict. The polarization in some of the recent elections in Latin America has been exacerbated by the dispute between the United States and Venezuela. The sovereign act of voting–in Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere–has been interpreted as if elections were barometers of support for Chávez or Bush.
It was Latin America’s misfortune in the 20th century to be caught in a pendulum-like oscillation between democracy and authoritarian rule. As Fidel Castro and Augusto Pinochet enter their twilight, it is worth reflecting on how the region can avoid a return to the stark and sterile confrontations of the last century.
This is an abbreviated version of a talk prepared for a conference on “Assessing Latin America’s ‘Left Turn’: Political Diversity and the Search for Development Alternatives,” December 1 and 2, 2006, Cornell University.

Written by Max

December 5th, 2006 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Analysis & Opinion

Spam prevention powered by Akismet