Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Belt-Tightening Reaches A Limit in Latin America ECUADOR A WAKE-UP CALL?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Belt-Tightening Reaches A Limit in Latin America ECUADOR A WAKE-UP CALL?

Article excerpt

The election of a firebrand populist as president of Ecuador is the strongest signal to date of growing impatience across Latin America with market-oriented economic reform.

One of the principal targets in the July 7 come-from-behind victory by three-time presidential candidate Abdala Bucaram was Equador's stiff economic-adjustment policies. In Ecuador and across Latin America such policies have begun to reduce the role of the state in national economies, state employment, and antipoverty programs while they're opening the regional economy to first-world standards of competitiveness.

Mr. Bucaram, the mercurial former mayor of Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, campaigned as the champion of Ecuador's poor and faltering middle class - the victims, he said, of outgoing President Sixto Duran-Ballen's economic-adjustment policies.

He also labeled his rival, Social Christian Party candidate Jaime Nebot, the "candidate of the rich," even though the conservative Mr. Nebot also criticized the effect of current policy on the poor.

Bucaram's victory serves as a wake-up call to the United States, which has been a chief advocate of Latin America's economic reforms, but which over the last year has retreated from a more active engagement in the "integration of the Americas" as other international issues and the domestic presidential campaign have shunted Latin America aside.

"Bucaram could be a harbinger of more recycled populists to come in Latin America" in the wake of reaction to unpopular belt-tightening economic programs, says Gustavo Gorriti, associate editor of Panama City's daily La Prensa and a former Latin American specialist at the University of Miami.

"The pendulum could be swinging back," says Mr. Gorriti. He says that Latin Americans, generally more comfortable with state-directed economies, only accepted "neoliberal" reforms when leaders implemented them as a means to control the region's hyperinflation.

Bucaram may have simply caught a wave already crashing on the Latin shore.

In Chile, considered Latin America's leading economic example for its high growth under an advanced reform process, striking workers in the country's important mining sector are protesting government plans to make the industry more efficient. …

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