Region: Troubling Signs for Political, Economic Future

Article excerpt

By Andres Gaudin

At first glance, the wave of elections in South America in 2009 would indicate the consolidation of a democratic system despite multiple bilateral conflicts and the freezing of the integration process in South America, a region that only two decades ago was largely under the heel of military dictators. And the region seemed to be overcoming the controversies between neighboring countries while integration was taking its first sure steps. From a political perspective, however, and encouraged by the inaction of the international community that allowed an anachronistic coup to stand in Honduras, the right moved to take over, and it either consolidated where it already had a structured presence or developed where false progressivism failed to initiate the minimal changes that would allow it to change the correlation of forces in its favor. Against this backdrop, the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recently released a report in which, despite predicting a certain growth, it portrays a distressing social picture for 2009--with more unemployment, more poverty, and more hunger--and it estimates that a desolate future will be the reality for coming years.

"Something strange is happening in Latin America. The Latin American right forces are poised to do better during the US presidency of Barack Obama than they did during the eight years of [President] George W. Bush. Bush led a far-right regime that was totally out of sympathy with popular forces in Latin America. Obama, on the other hand, is leading a centrist regime that is trying to replicate the 'good-neighbor policy' which [President] Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed as a way of signaling the end of direct US military intervention in Latin America," wrote US sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, former director of social studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, in an article reprinted in the Argentine daily Pagina 12.

Roberto Garcia Moritan, former Argentine deputy minister for foreign affairs, complements Wallenstein's reasoning in saying that, when a man arrived at the White House who offered to treat Latin America with respect, popular reaction in all countries was identical, and Obama became a great source of Latin American optimism. Nevertheless, when governments saw that, as time passed and the Obama administration did not even offer a more friendly relationship with its neighbors to the south, only Bolivia and Venezuela raised voices of criticism and warning. The right, said the diplomat, "clearly saw how progressives wasted time while Obama failed to fulfill his auspicious promises, and it made the most of that, creating new forms of action and growing. Seeing what had happened in Honduras and the inaction of the US government, which ended up validating the coup, the right felt it had 'permission' for everything."

Right makes gains across the continent

In Argentina, the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner lost its legislative majority to the right, which will make the remaining 23 months until her term ends in December 2011 decidedly difficult (see NotiSur, 2009-07-10).

In Chile, the right grew until it captured the government from the sputtering Concertacion coalition (see NotiSur, 2010-01-22). In March the Palacio de la Moneda will be occupied by President-elect Sebastian Pinera, a powerful businessman with neoliberal ideas and strong ties to the Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) dictatorship, part-owner of LAN airlines and Colo-Colo soccer club--the most popular team in the country--and head of an important group of leading companies.

In Uruguay, the right lost to the Frente Amplio (FA), but it gained two percentage points compared with the 2004 elections (see NotiSur, 2009-12-11) and is studying the possibility a merger of the two traditional conservative parties--the Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) and the Partido Colorado (PC)--giving up symbolism and a rich identity for the sake of trying to overturn the progressive government in the 2014 elections. …