An End to the Chavez Trend?
Last week in Mexico City's La Cronica de Hoy, columnist José Carreño Carlón suggested the influence of Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chavez was beginning to wane. Citing political campaigns in Colombia, Peru and Mexico, he asked if Latin America was seeing "The End of the Autocratic Populist Boom?"
With yesterday's victory of Peruvian social democrat Alan Garcia over Chavez-backed nationalist Ollanta Humala, Carlon's thesis is getting new attention.
Garcia, who won with 55 percent of the vote, today declared that Chavez was "the only loser" in the Peruvian election. "Peru has said no to penetration, interference and international domination," he said. Chavez openly supported Humala, a former military officer running a platform of rewriting the constitution and renegotiating the country's international business relations.
The Peru election comes a week after the landslide reelection of Colombia's conservative president, Alvaro Uribe, the first election result this year to encourage Chavez's foes in Latin America's mainstream media. El Comercio saw Uribe's victory as "a strong wall of protection against the pretensions of Hugo Chavez."
Chavez "should be worried," wrote Fernando Ochoa Antich in Venezuela's El Universal (in Spanish), which, like all leading newspapers in the country, is openly anti-Chavez. "A new leadership is rising in Latin America."
"There is nothing inevitable about South America's plunge into Leftist militancy. We are not witnessing an inexorable, tectonic shift," says the Daily Telegraph in London.
But in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales allied his government with Chavez, the news site Bolpress (in Spanish) says that Humala won by capturing the largest bloc of seats in the Congress and establishing a nationalist, anti-free trade movement.
Mexico's La Jornada (in Spanish) says that the Peruvian results signal, not the waning of Chavez's influence, but its growth. Ollanta's party, they note, finshed first in 14 of Peru's 24 provinces and won 45 percent of the vote, "a phenomenon that could transform the Peruvian electoral map."
The region's dominant political impulse, La Jornada editors say, remains divided between "neoliberal left" and the "social transformation" left. The former, represented by governments in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and now Peru, does not seek to overturn free-market economic policies or local oligarchies. The latter countries, embodied by Venezuela and Bolivia, aim to transform their societies by nationalizing natural resources and redistributing benefits to the poor.
The results in Peru, they say, "clarify two well-defined political fronts, one of the left and one of the right."
The next big test of Latin America's political direction will come in Mexico, where conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon has pulled even with leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in opinion polls by linking him to Chavez in campaign ads. AMLO, as he is known, denies any special connection to Chavez but says he is serious about helping the poor. Mexicans go to the polls July 2.
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