Leftist influence in region waning
By CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Latin America, has
just declared that the influence of Venezuela in the region is
declining. He's right.
The so-called 21st-Century socialism is clearly sinking. While four or
five years ago it seemed that it would be the determining ideological
force in Spanish-speaking America, the signals now coming from the
continent indicate the contrary. The five countries riding that
political wave are in crisis.
• Cuba, the group's brains and ideological lighthouse, has recognized
the failure of its collectivist system and tries to replace it with
something the island calls "the Vietnamese model." Raúl Castro intends
to maintain political and economic control of the country while
authorizing the gradual creation of a private entrepreneurial fabric
that will soothe the horrors of statism and boost the country's feeble
That quest for efficiency includes justifying prices and acknowledging
that the market is more competent than centralized planning. This
admission of faults and correction of course leaves 21st-Century
socialism without an ideological referent.
• Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez used to say that Venezuela was moving
toward the Cuban "sea of happiness." When the poor Venezuelans get to
that point, they'll discover that Cuba is no longer in the same place.
The Cubans are sailing toward the sea of Vietnamese happiness.
Chávez has lost influence in Latin America, especially in Venezuela
itself. According to Valenzuela, only 30 percent of Latin Americans have
a favorable opinion of Chavism. It is possible that the same happens
inside the country, despite Chávez's almost total control of the media.
In 12 years, the colorful president, a great generator of chaos, has
spent $950 billion – a figure larger than all of his country's revenue
in the 20th Century – only to spark the flight of one million
hard-working and educated Venezuelans, create the most corrupt and
dangerous society in Latin America, shut down half of the
entrepreneurial sector and begin the Haiti-ization of Caracas, while the
personal relations between Chavistas and anti- Chavistas become tenser
In a country that used to be a model of civic cordiality among
adversaries, today one breathes a thick political hatred that could
culminate in a blood bath if the spark is ever struck.
• Evo Morales' popularity in Bolivia crashed loudly after his failed
attempt to increase the price of gasoline. The people took to the
streets, and the government was forced to retract the decree. Because
the mechanism worked, it became a lesson learned quickly by the
Bolivians – each and every austerity measure will be met with protests.
Placed in that position, without the ability to fine-tune the economy or
put an end to the subsidies, challenged by the populist demagogy to
which Morales was so addicted when he himself was in the opposition, the
government will undoubtedly choose to print more currency – an
irresponsible option – to deal with its obligations.
What will happen? The same as in the past: a rampant inflation that will
destroy the economic foundations of the Plurinational State of Bolivia,
as that ill-starred country now calls itself.
• Resistance to Rafael Correa is rising in Ecuador, in a reaction to his
unbounded appetite for power. First, he violated the constitution under
which he was elected and swept clean the old Parliament to build a state
to his liking. After that, and after realizing that he couldn't govern
as he pleased anyway, he took to harassing the press and using the
courts to destroy his adversaries.
His aversion to national and foreign capital has created the worst
possible economic climate. The Ecuadoreans' savings flee abroad to
escape the corruption and misgovernment.
Meanwhile, international investors don't want to hear the word Ecuador,
especially after the court ruling against Chevron, fining the company
$9.5 billion for alleged ecological damage to the jungle between 1972
and 1990, damage that the company insists was not impartially
demonstrated by qualified experts. Chevron calls it a sentence motivated
by political reasons.
• Last comes Nicaragua, the poorest and most backward of the
21st-Century-socialism countries, whose Sandinista government, presided
over by Daniel Ortega, remains upright for only one reason: the
inability of the opposition democrats to present a united front that
will put an end to the status quo.
It would be enough for the liberals to have the patriotism and common
sense to present a single candidate to the next elections to knock
Ortega from power. It's a shame that they're not doing it.
(c) 2011, Firmas Press