Wednesday, November 03, 2004

New additions to the "axis of evil?"
With a second term ahead, the Bush administration needs no longer to follow the vagaries of public opinion in carrying out the policies of the Project for a New American Century.

Latin American Voters Tilting to Left
Mon Nov 1, 4:59 PM ET

By KEVIN GRAY, Associated Press Writer

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay - Uruguay strengthened South America's political tilt to the left, electing the country's first leftist president as part of a regional shift by voters disenchanted by U.S.-backed free-market policies many blame for recent economic upheaval.

Municipal elections also reaped gains for left-leaning governments in Venezuela and Chile.
In Uruguay, the victory of socialist Tabare Vazquez in Sunday's vote highlighted a dramatic change for a staunch U.S. ally. During the five-year rule of outgoing centrist President Jorge Batlle, relations with the United States had blossomed at a time when left-leaning and populist leaders took power in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.

Pro-government candidates swept all but two of 23 governorships in Venezuela's elections Sunday, giving a boost to President Hugo Chavez. Chilean voters strongly endorsed the center-left government of President Ricardo Lagos in nationwide municipal elections, although the right-wing opposition won the symbolic mayoral race in Santiago.

Brazil's leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, however, was handed a bruising defeat in a major test of his ruling Workers Party's influence, which lost mayoral runoffs in Sao Paulo and several other key cities.

Still, the win by Vazquez — a 64-year-old cancer specialist and former mayor of the capital of Montevideo — aligned Uruguay with its neighbors, who are increasingly challenging U.S. policies toward the region.

Thousands of Uruguayans rallied in the streets until early Monday morning, celebrating Vazquez's victory.

Uruguay's Electoral Court said Monday that with 99 percent of the ballots counted, Vazquez won 50.2 percent, or 1,113,615 votes in the country of 3.4 million.

"This is the birth of a new Uruguay," said Magdalena Noguiera, a 29-year-old saleswoman. "Hopefully our message has been heard: we want change. Enough of the poverty, enough of the despair that we have seen in the last few years."

Uruguay, long one of Latin America's most stable economies, is climbing out of an economic depression in which the economy shrank by 11 percent two years ago.

The upheaval left one of every three Uruguayans below the poverty line — a blow to a country where generous social benefits had for years assured one of the region's highest living standards.

Thousands of young Uruguayans emigrated to Europe and the United States.

Over the last decade, many South American countries — pushed by Washington — have adopted free market reforms, opening their economies and privatizing state industries, only to see their economies slow to a grind.

Across the region during the 1990s, unemployment rates shot into the double digits. Statistics show the region also weathered a widening gap between rich and poor, exacerbated by economic crises like those in Argentina and Uruguay.

"There is a growing clamor that something is wrong here," said Montevideo-based political analyst and pollster Luis Eduardo Gonzalez. "And that sentiment is playing out at the ballot box."

Analysts, however, describe many of the new leftist leaders — including some who were active in leftist movements during the military rule of the turbulent 1970s and 1980s — as pragmatists.
While Venezuela's Chavez has alarmed some, Brazil's Silva and Lagos of Chile won praise from investors for adhering to free market policies, while emphasizing a greater role for government in helping the poor.

"I think most people think that if someone is of the left wing like Lula and Lagos, that's not really a cause for worry because those two presidents seem to be pursuing orthodox economic policies for the large part," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

"So I think the whole meaning of what socialist is and what a leftist is has been somewhat redefined," he said.

Vazquez has expressed admiration for both leaders, saying he intends to focus on strengthening Uruguay's ties with regional neighbors Argentina and Brazil.

The Vazquez win drew praise from other leaders in the region, with some serving notice that leftist parties would likely continue to accrue political power.

Mexico City's Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the win was a result of Latin Americans looking for political alternatives against a backdrop of economic gloom.

"Those who want to continue sustaining the same politics are losing elections because people want economic growth, they want jobs," he said.