Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Don't Do Chavez a Favor in Bolivia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Don't Do Chavez a Favor in Bolivia

Article excerpt

Anti-Washington feelings run deep in Latin America, and the US would only strengthen the likes of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez by challenging Bolivia's newly elected president, Evo Morales. To govern, socialists like him may need a bullying Yanqui.

The Bush administration must sit tight, and wait to see if Mr. Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president and the first to win more than 50 percent of the vote, can actually hold his troubled Andes nation together.

And it must see if this former street protester who toppled a president can fulfill promises to protect the growers of coca (the raw material for cocaine) from the US-funded eradication program and whether he'll take control of Bolivia's natural gas fields (the world's sixth largest), now run by firms from friendly nations such as Brazil and Spain.

Up to now, the US has painted Morales - who says he is Washington's "nightmare" - as a 21st-century Che Guevara, tapping urban rage and ethnic resentments to ignite a peasant revolution, with possible consequences like those from the 1959 takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro. The US shouldn't confuse Morales's old- fashioned populist rhetoric with his likely realpolitik governance.

To use cold-war-style containment and confrontation of leftist leaders can easily backfire in today's more globalized, freer world, where creating jobs by market means is job No. 1 for any leader. Over the past decade, bumbling US reactions to Mr. Chavez's anti-US statements have only bolstered his popularity in the region, allowing him to thwart Venezuela's democracy and misuse its oil wealth for political gain.

The Bush administration reacted calmly to Brazil's 2002 election of socialist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, creating a working relationship with him as he adopted centrist policies. …

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