News analysis: Political upsets mark dark days for Latin left

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CARACAS: Recent electoral upsets in Argentina and Venezuela could herald a crumbling of the leftist bloc that has prevailed in Latin America over much of the past two decades, analysts say.

Tumbling commodity prices have thrown the region into economic turbulence, while many voters are said to be tiring of their leftist leaders—though those in countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia seem to be going strong.

“The left’s political discourse is looking worn-out,” said Elsa Cardozo, a specialist in international affairs at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela.

“The transformations they brought about have led backwards in the end.”


In legislative polls on Sunday voters punished Venezuela’s socialist government for a deep economic crisis in the country due to falling oil prices.

The opposition won control of the legislative assembly controlled for the past 16 years by the socialist government.

The opposition had claimed inspiration from Argentina, where voters last month voted out their left-wing President Cristina Kirchner after 12 years of government by her and her late husband Nestor.

Conservative pro-market candidate Mauricio Macri surprised pollsters by forcing a run-off vote and then beat Kirchner’s ally Daniel Scioli.

In economic powerhouse Brazil meanwhile, leftist president Dilma Rousseff is in a political crisis.

Her last election victory in 2014 was a narrow one. Now, her government is beset by a corruption affair and she herself faces impeachment in a public financial scandal.

The decline in commodity prices is a common factor in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, said Gabriel Puricelli, a political scientist at Buenos Aires University.

Party’s over    
In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez used cash from high oil prices to fund social spending.

But after Maduro was elected in 2013, prices tumbled from over $100 a barrel to a seven-year low of $34 in the week before the vote.

“Latin America is emerging from a period of excess,” said Cardozo.

“When the party is over, someone has to pay the bill.”

Leftist leaders in some smaller Latin countries are still in control, despite occasional signs of flagging.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales was comfortably re-elected in October despite his side having lost ground in regional elections in March.

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa was re-elected in February, though he has since abandoned plans to seek a third mandate in 2017.

Correa and his Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega currently enjoy high approval ratings and positive economic records.

“We are seeing a new politics in Latin America,” said Carlos Malamud, a specialist on the region at the Elcano Institute research group in Madrid.

“That doesn’t mean an overall turn to the right. But the economic climate is starting to affect the political climate.”

Union of South American States chief Ernesto Samper said he saw the recent electoral developments as democratic “turns” rather than reversals.

The diplomatic reconciliation of the United States with Venezuela’s old ally Cuba this year after half a century of rivalry could have broad consequences for the region, where other leftist leaders have strained ties with Washington.

“Scarcely had Chavez died when negotiations started between Cuba and the United States without Venezuela knowing it,” said Cardozo.

“For some time now, Venezuela has been alone with its mess and its debts.”

Guatemalan political scientist Marcio Palacios said Latin American leftist leaders were also suffering from the stain of corruption.

He said that would lead to “a return of the right with its agenda of extracting minerals, oil and other natural resources.”

Puricelli cautioned, however, that the region’s slowing economy makes it unattractive to foreign investors.

Cardozo considered a “political reconfiguration” was shifting the region away from the ideological influence of leaders such as Chavez.

“Perhaps it is time to break with the dogma and concentrate on Latin America’s real problems.”

AFP

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