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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is the second most important leader in Latin America , according to survey results released today by the Iberian-American Barometer of Governability. The survey, which annually monitors how Iberian-Americans view Latin American governments, poses the following question: "Who do you consider is the most important leader in Latin America?" In 17 of the 18 countries where the survey was conducted, it found that Cuban President Fidel Castro, followed by Chávez and Brazilian President Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, were chosen for several reasons.

Putting aside personal characteristics, the common ground that the three share is the emphasis that each of their governments has placed on eradicating poverty.

The Iberian-American barometer began to conduct surveys in Iberian-American countries, including Spain and Portugal, thirteen years ago. This poll was coordinated by the Colombian Centro Nacional de Consultoria and published in the Colombian daily, El Tiempo. Neither Cubans nor Puerto Ricans were included in the survey.

Chávez, Lula and Castro are followed by Mexican President Vicente Fox and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Ricardo Lagos, the President of Chile and his Argentine counterpart, Néstor Kirchener, rounded off the list.

Although the survey focuses on how well-recognized Latin American presidents are within the region, it also charts approval ratings for presidents in their respective countries.

For example, although Lula was found to be one of the most important presidents in the region, his popularity within Brazil has significantly fallen over the course of the past year and a half. Between August, 2003 and May, 2005 the Brazilian President lost sixteen percentage points, dropping from an approval rating of 66% to 50%.

On the other hand, Chávez’ approval rating has shot up from 25% in May, 2004 to 65% in May, 2005. This is the equivalent of an increase 40 points, the most substantial rebound in the entire region. According to the survey, Leonel Fernández, the President of the Dominican Republic, is the most popular President within his country, with an 83% approval rating, followed closely by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vazquez, with 80%. Kirncher and Lagos also enjoy high levels of popularity, in Argentina and Chile, respectively. The most unpopular Latin American leaders include ex-Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez, as well as Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Oscar José Berger of Guatemala.

The survey also points to the formation of what is referred to by Venezuelan daily El Universal as a "new reality" across the region. According to the Barometer of Governability, there is a widening rift between Washington and "leftist" governments such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The most recent example of this rift took place last Friday, when it became clear that last-ditch efforts to garner support for the Washington-backed candidate for the President of the Organization of American States would fail.

In what is referred to by the Right as "consensus building" and "diplomacy" and what is considered by the Left as "saving face" and "backing down," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice engineered Mexican candidate Luis Ernesto Derbez’s withdrawal and shifted support to Chilean candidate José Miguel Insulza.