Latin America’s New Left

Also in NPQ, Jorge Castañeda on Evo Morales and the leftward drift of Latin America.

There is a leftward drift in Latin America today, but it is not homogeneous. Those parties of the leaders of the left who spring from an old Communist, Socialist or Castroist tradition (with the exception of Castro himself) tend to have crossed the Rubicon to market economics, representative democracy, respect for human rights and a responsible geopolitical stance. Belonging to this crowd are Chile’s Ricardo Lagos and his successor, Michelle Bachelet; Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; and even perhaps Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez.

But those whose roots plunge deep into the Latin American populist tradition, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, Mexico’s potential new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Bolivia’s Evo Morales are of a different strain. They are far less convinced of the imperatives of globalization and orthodox economics, of the intrinsic value of democracy and respect for human rights, and like nothing better than baiting the White House, and particularly its current tenants…

The populist left, on the other hand, does not have much of a domestic agenda—populism rarely does, except for giving away or spending money for political purposes —but burnishes its left-wing credentials the old-fashioned way: with an anti-US, pro-Havana foreign policy.

Joseph Stiglitz offers another view.

[NPQ]Jorge Castañeda, the former Mexican foreign minister, divides Latin America into the “sensible left” of Brazil and Chile and the “irresponsible left” of Argentina, Venezuela and now Bolivia under Evo Morales. Castañeda fears that the leaders of these latter countries will maintain popularity at all costs by controlling sources of revenue—whether oil, gas or foreign-debt payments. “This left is disastrous,” he says. “Its rule will, as in the past, lead to inflation, greater poverty and inequality.”…Do you share these worries?

Stiglitz | I would put it differently.

If you look at Venezuela’s example, it is that by bargaining tough and hard with the oil companies you can get a better deal. Across the world, many developing countries have gotten a rotten deal. The fraction of value of the resources they’ve been recovering for their people has been relatively low.

Malaysia brought people in to help Malaysians learn how to manage an oil company, but they owned it completely. Now, and the evidence supports it, they get much better value from their resources than if those resources were foreign-owned.

Bolivia has gotten a pretty bad deal on its natural gas. It can do better, as Evo Morales has said he intends to do.