Left-wing politics from the US to Nepal, via Zimbabwe, South America and Palestine.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Latin American elections

According to this, leftist candidates are trailing in polls both in Peru (second round of elections: June 4th) and in Mexico (elections: July 2nd), though in both cases polls are pretty close.

In Mexico, we have Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-winger running for the PRD, a breakoff group from the old ruling party, the PRI. According to most accounts, Obrador (or AMLO as he seems to be referred to), is a relatively mild leftist, unlikely to take drastic moves such as Evo Morales' nationalization of energy reserves. Nonetheless, the US is clearly worried about him being elected. There have been rumors of Chavez funding AMLO's election campaign, though this is strongly denied by just about everyone.

One strong indicator that ALMO is nothing like Morales is the Zapatistas' utter dismissal of all candidates (see this). It's worth remembering that Morales is the first native leader of any Latin American country. Traditionally, voices of native peoples are rarely heard in mainstream politics. This is one reason the populist leftist movements led by Chavez and Morales are doing so well: they are courting the indigenous vote and providing education and healthcare to their poverty-stricken communities. I seriously doubt AMLO will do anything much for the native communities under Zapatista control. Nonetheless, I suppose pretty much anything is better than the current pro-NAFTA president, Vicente Fox.

Peru is interesting. Unlike most other Latin American elections, the people of Peru will be asked to choose between a center-left candidate, Alan Garcia, and Chavez/Morales-style left-wing populist, Ollanta Humala. Thus the election will be a test for the populist movement.

Polls currently show that Humala is trailing Garcia by around eight percentage points, despite winning the first round. The reason for this is that those who voted for the center-right candidate, Lourdres Flores in the first round are likely to shift their votes to Garcia rather than to Humala.

As demonstrated by Peru, the battle in Latin America is no longer between left and right. With few exceptions (Colombia most importantly), the region is now firmly left-of-center. The upcoming battles, not just in these elections, but for the foreseeable future are those between the so-called 'pragmatic', pro-free-trade center-left and the 'populist' far-left.

There are clearly problems with both: Lula in Brazil represents the center-left and has been criticized for betraying his popular support bases, such the Landless Peasant Movement (or MST). Chavez, on the other hand, has been making many of the mistakes of the classic, showy authoritarian left. One of the more absurd ideas he's come up with is Venezuela's new space program, on which he will be spending US$500 million. An absurd and showy waste of money, in my opinion.

So while the US is busy making a mess of the Middle East, South America is experiencing a real left-wing revival. How this will end up is anyone's guess, but it really would be nice to see the US being left as the only right-wing country in the hemisphere...

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