Thursday, August 26, 2010

Citizens feeling more optimistic

Posted on Thursday, 08.26.10
Citizens feeling more optimistic

Latin Americans are in an upbeat mood. Most (78 percent) feel that they
and their families are moving in the right direction, even if their
countries (45 percent) and the world (41 percent) are not. Still, in
2003, fewer Latin Americans saw their country (30 percent) and the world
(27 percent) as being on the right track, while rating their own
standing a bit lower (72 percent).

Since 1995, Latinobarómetro -- a respected public-opinion think tank in
Santiago, Chile -- has issued annual reports on democracy and other
topics based on interviews with Latin Americans in 18 countries. Their
views on globalization and international relations, however, have only
twice been the subject of in-depth surveys: in 2003 and in
September-October 2009, the latter results presented in June 2010 report.

In Brazil (91 percent), Venezuela (86 percent) and Costa Rica/Uruguay
(tied at 84 percent), citizens see themselves and their families as
strongly on the right track. At the other end, those in Ecuador (70
percent), the Dominican Republic (68 percent) and Nicaragua (62 percent)
registered the lowest satisfaction with their lives, albeit with
majorities in all three countries still satisfied.

When pollsters asked how their country was doing, Brazilians (75
percent), Chileans (65 percent), Salvadorans (63 percent), Uruguayans
(59 percent) and Panamanians (58 percent) nodded their approval. In all
others -- from Bolivia (49 percent) down to last-place Argentina (19
percent) -- a majority see their countries moving in the wrong direction.

Mixed reviews

The gap between Latin Americans' perception of their prospects and those
of their countries could partly be a function of confidence in
government. In Venezuela, crime and corruption are major problems which,
for example, Hugo Chávez can't or won't stop. In Peru, however, only 32
percent see their country on the right track in spite of solid economic

Citizens in four countries -- El Salvador (62 percent), Brazil (61
percent), the Dominican Republic (55 percent) and Guatemala (53 percent)
-- hold favorable views of the world. Founded on a booming economy,
Brazilian optimism needs little explanation; the other three do. Though
none is a middle-income country, all are in CAFTA-DR, the Central
American-Dominican free-trade agreement with the United States.
Salvadorans, Dominicans and Guatemalans may well be expressing their
hopes for the future.

While most don't see the world on the right track, Latin Americans have
positive opinions of specific countries or powers: the United States (74
percent), Spain (65 percent), Japan and the European Union (tied at 63
percent), and Canada and China (both at 58 percent). These approval
ratings -- especially for the United States and Spain -- are
encouraging: Most of the region's citizens are looking forward to
improving their lives, not backward nursing historical grievances.

Argentines once more fall at the opposite end of the spectrum: At 61
percent, they express the least positive views of the United States. Two
caveats are in order.

• Given the legacy of Juan Domingo Perón -- Argentina's strongman and
precursor of today's anti-American populism -- it is perhaps a marvel
that a majority holds the United States in high regard.

• The crisis of 2001 coupled with Néstor Kirchner and Cristina
Fernández's policies have reinforced the Argentine proclivity to blame
outsiders for their problems while shortchanging their own responsibility.

Perspectives on Cuba

On average, 40 percent of Latin Americans view Cuba positively. In only
four countries -- El Salvador and Guatemala (each at 54 percent),
Nicaragua (53 percent) and Paraguay (51 percent) -- does a majority give
the island high marks. Land-locked Paraguay is usually a Latin American
outlier. The other three countries likely see Cuba through the Cuban
doctors who tend to the neediest and are rightly appreciative.

What's striking is how two country blocs view the United States and
Cuba. Central America and the Dominican Republic are the most
pro-American: the DR (91 percent), El Salvador (89 percent), Nicaragua
(75 percent), Honduras (81 percent), Costa Rica (86 percent) and
Guatemala (67 percent). Nicaragua aside, populism in Venezuela (43
percent), Bolivia (46 percent) and Ecuador (40 percent) hasn't won Cuba
much favor. Across the region the poor give Cuba the lowest approval.

Rhetoric doesn't put food on the table or keep citizens safe from crime.

Latin Americans generally reward good -- or good enough -- government
that manages the economy with competence. Though the recent crisis has
bolstered the place of government, 47 percent (versus 51 percent in
2003) said their well-being depends on their own efforts.

Latin Americans manifest remarkable good sense. I wish I could say the
same of their politicians.

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