Why Leftists Keep Winning in Latin America

From Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

Why Latin America’s left keeps winning

Washington’s foreign policy establishment has been proven wrong. Latin America is more stable and democratic than ever

Mark Weisbrot | The Guardian | Friday 1 May 2009 19.00 BST

A few months ago I ran into an economist who was formerly head of the Bolivian Central Bank in the La Paz airport. He had been reading Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist whom the media has nicknamed “Dr Doom”, and was predicting a very gloomy economic future for the hemisphere, the region and especially his own country.

I didn’t agree about Bolivia, which has more international reserves relative to its economy than China. But it was striking to see the same thing in all the countries that I visited: opposition economists and political leaders everywhere reminded me of communists in the 1930s, praying for the collapse of the capitalist system – in this case, somewhat ironically, so that they could rid themselves of the left governments that the voters had chosen in Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador and elsewhere.

In all of these countries the vast majority of the mass media, to varying degrees, shares the opposition’s agenda and in many cases appears willing to present an overly pessimistic or even catastrophic scenario in order to help advance the cause.

But despite the worsening of the world and regional economy, the left keeps winning in Latin America. The latest left victory was that of President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, an economist who was first elected at the end of 2006 and was re-elected last Sunday under a new constitution. This gives the charismatic 46 year-old four more years, and he can be re-elected once more for another term.

There are a number of reasons that most Ecuadorians might stick with their president, despite what they hear on the TV news. Some 1.3 million of Ecuador’s poor households (in a country of 14 million) now get a stipend of $30 a month, which is a significant improvement. Social spending as a share of the economy has increased by more than 50% in Correa’s two years in office. Last year the government also invested heavily in public works, with capital spending more than doubling.

Correa has delivered on other promises that were important to his constituents, not least of which was a referendum allowing for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, which voters approved by a nearly two-thirds majority. It is seen as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, with advances in the rights of indigenous people, civil unions for gay couples and a novel provision of rights for nature. The latter would apparently allow for lawsuits on the basis of damage to an ecosystem.

Many thought Correa was joking when he said during his presidential campaign that he would be willing to keep the US military base at Manta if Washington would allow Ecuadorian troops to be stationed in Florida. But he wasn’t, and the base is scheduled to close later this year.

He also resisted pressure from the US Congress and others in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit that Ecuadorian courts will decide, in which Chevron is accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste that polluted rivers and streams.

And in an unprecedented move last November, Correa stopped payment on $4bn of foreign debt when an independent Public Debt Audit Commission, long demanded by civil society organisations in Ecuador, determined that this debt was illegally and illegitimately contracted.

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