- Onnesha Roychoudhuri
While commentators cheer the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East, South America has just ushered in another leftist leader. Following the elections of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Ecuador's Lucio Gutierrez, Brazil's Luiz Inacio da Silva, and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, Uruguay's first leftist president, Dr. Tabare Vazquez, has taken office.
Most of these leaders are far from the radical leftists of the days of yore. As New York Times' Larry Rohter puts it, "they are not so much a red tide as a pink one." Chavez is the one big exception here: nationalizing Venezeula's big businesses, building up his armed forces, stockpiling Russian-made weapons, and, more recently, accusing the Bush administration of trying to oust his government. But even though South America's other leftist leaders don't share Chavez's strident tone, they too are trying to move away from the open-market policies heavily influenced by Washington, and toward their own models of social democracy. Part of that shift has involved strengthening ties with other leftist governments in the region—including Cuba.
In Uruguay, Dr. Vazquez's second order of business—after proposing a dramatic increase in social spending—was to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and announce that he "will tolerate no outside interference in our internal affairs." This may have just been a rhetorical move to appeal to Uruguay's public, which has yet to reap the benefits of foreign investment and freer trade. But Vazquez has also put himself in a position in which it would be hard not to deliver on his promises. Meanwhile, he has appointed former leftist guerrilla leaders, rebels, and other opponents of the former military governments, to important political posts.
It's too soon to tell whether these leftist governments will try to forge a unified Latin American movement. But the regimes are now looking toward alliances with Russia and China rather than with the United States. Similarly, countries like Brazil and Venezuela have been working toward a continental alliance modeled on the European Union. Thus far, they've produced nothing more than joint ventures and military cooperation. But it's worth keeping an eye on the upcoming presidential elections in countries like Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico, countries in which "pink" leaders are firmly in the running. And it will be interesting to see who takes the lead voice in this growing ideological shift (and whether or not they are smoking Cuban cigars).
- Onnesha Roychoudhuri