The landslide victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela's presidential
election Sunday caps off 12 elections across Latin America since
November 2005 that, taken together, reveal a broad electoral shift
to the left.
The triumph of President Chavez, who rails against the
"imperialist" US and calls President Bush "the devil," comes on the
heels of victories by former US foe Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and
Ecuador's Rafael Correa, who called for a "citizen's revolution."
But in many ways Venezuela stands alone. "There is no Chavismo
across Latin America," says Adrian Bonilla, a political analyst at
the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, Ecuador.
"What we have is a lot of new governments with different
ideological trends. You don't have a continental leader," he says.
Indeed, analysts say that the leftist tide that appeared to be
sweeping the region earlier this year has ebbed. While President
Chavez led the pack in his anti-US fervor, the left comes from
widely different ideologies and shares no unified front. Many seek
some distance from the US, but don't shun the country. In many
cases, candidates have had to moderate their images just to get
There's no doubt that voters in most countries firmly rejected
the "Washington consensus" and its orthodox free-trade policies this
year, but they aren't necessarily seeking revolution. "The region is
in great flux, and there is enormous frustration with persistent
poverty. But there is no great revolutionary fervor in Latin
America," says Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the
Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "There is certainly distrust
of the US, but at the same time most [leaders] want to explore areas
of cooperation with the US."
Nowhere is the confrontation between Latin America and the US
starker than in Venezuela. Calls for Mr. Chavez's "social
revolution" abound: on banners that hang from skyscrapers, on bags
of pasta at the state-run grocery stores, on T-shirts worn by
residents both young and old. With 78 percent of polls counted,
Chavez beat his challenger Manuel Rosales 61 percent to 38 percent,
bringing a new six-year term that will likely deepen that zeal.
"Long live the socialist revolution! Destiny has been written,"
Chavez told supporters Sunday night. "No one should fear socialism;
socialism is human. Socialism is love."
A central foreign policy goal has been to expand that fervor and
provide a counterbalance to the US throughout Latin America and
beyond. "He bears the mantel of anti-imperialism and anti-
Yankeeism, and he is driven to build global coalitions to achieve
this goal," says Jennifer McCoy, a Venezuela expert at Georgia State
University. That includes joining Mercosur, the South American trade
bloc, and creating energy policies throughout Latin America.
Different shades of red
Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas Program at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, says that two basic camps of
leftists have emerged recently: Those, such as Chavez, who run on
authoritarian populist platforms, and those who support
representative democracy. The majority, such as Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva of Brazil, fall into the latter group. Mr. Ortega, Mr. Correa,
and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, "are in the process of
defining themselves," he says.
What unites the countries that have elected leftist presidents is
the desire to change the status quo, marked by deep, longstanding
inequality. That was the case in Ecuador, where Mr. Correa ran on an
outsider platform and floated not a single congressional candidate.
"The people are fighting - it's a process, a wave, with the
common denominator an attempt to diminish the poverty and education
gap," says Oscar-Rene Vargas, an independent political analyst in
Managua, Nicaragua, who says that Mr. …