June 3, 2006


A Latin Backlash: Hugo Chavez has managed to replace George W. Bush as the imperialist specter (Washington Post, June 3, 2006)

FOR YEARS Hugo Chavez's steady dismantlement of Venezuela's democracy and his embrace of dictators and terrorists around the world -- from Fidel Castro to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- prompted next to no reaction from Latin America's democratic governments. The silence was shameful, partly because Venezuela's former leaders fought for human rights in countries such as Chile, Peru and Argentina during the 1980s and '90s, but also because the quiet was in part purchased by Mr. Chavez, who lavished subsidized oil and lucrative trade deals on governments around the region.

Now at last, Mr. Chavez is the object of a growing backlash from leaders around Latin America -- from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Nicaragua, among other countries. In part, the politicians are responding to foolish overreaching by Mr. Chavez, who has been busy trying to turn Bolivia into a satellite state while suggesting he has similar plans for much of the rest of the continent. Latin Americans don't like imperialism, whether it comes from Washington or Caracas. And even leftist leaders, like those who rule in Brazil and elsewhere in South America, find it hard to imagine themselves prospering in a Venezuela-led economic bloc that includes Cuba but shuns the United States.

The other reason Latins have found their anti-Chavez tongues is delightfully pragmatic: It's a proven vote-getter. Elections are taking place or are on the way in a host of Central and South American countries -- and politicians in most of them are finding that linking their opponents to Venezuela's demagogue works wonders.

In Peru, a Political Makeover Aids Ex-Leader's Election Bid (Monte Reel, June 4, 2006, Washington Post)
The plot twist came in April, when García, 57, surprised pollsters by finishing second in national elections, allowing him to claim a spot in a runoff against Humala, the leading vote-getter. García has campaigned on the premise that he is a changed man, that he won't repeat the mistakes of his first term. In the campaign's waning days, García clearly defined his adversary not simply as a nationalist who promises more government control over the nation's economy, but also as an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is leading an overall trend in Latin America toward populism.

"Go with Chavez, or with Peru," García told reporters this week. "That is the decision."

The contest between García and Humala has centered primarily on negatives: One candidate insists he's not the president he was in the 1980s, the other insists he's not a future authoritarian. But García's climb in opinion polls has coincided with the jabs he's traded through the media with Chavez, who has called García a "thief" and a "liar." Casting himself as the moderate, García has compared himself to left-leaning centrists such as Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while distancing himself from the populist policies of Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

"Alan García is a notable politician; this fight with Chavez is part of a political calculation that he would not have made if he did not think it would benefit him," said Alfredo Torres, head of the Peruvian polling firm Apoyo.

The fight became so heated this week that election observers from the Organization of American States accused Chavez of interference. Lloyd Axworthy, chief of the OAS mission, said he believed that Chavez's threats of cutting diplomatic relations with a García government amounted to an attempt to influence the Peruvian vote. Humala, meanwhile, was put in the awkward position of trying to distance himself from support that he said he never solicited in the first place.

"It had increasingly become a point of objection and irritation from a lot of Peruvians," said Axworthy, who traveled throughout Peru to investigate the voting process. "That to me was a real telling point about their attitudes: They just don't like another president telling them how they should behave."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 3, 2006 5:50 PM

President Uribe was re-elected last week in neighboring Colombia by a record-setting margin. It's tough to imagine 2 more different leaders and 2 countries going in such opposite directions.

Posted by: Foos at June 3, 2006 6:08 PM

Don't forget Z-Net!

Posted by: jgm at June 3, 2006 8:52 PM

With Mexico's election a month off, it's hard to see how you demonize Bush there, given his immigration position (which may be the point to begin with). On the other hand, all those people either thinking about heading north looking for jobs or who have people there already aren't likely to be gung-ho for a Chavez supporter who would likely make the situation worse than it already is.

Posted by: John at June 4, 2006 12:41 AM