The Electoral victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia again puts Latin America in the focus of attention of the media after a long absence. Erroneously compared with the election of socialist Michelle Bachelet in Chile, the Bolivian election is fairly interpreted by the media as a symbol of a political turning point in the continent. As we saw in our January 9th edition, the Spanish neoconservative media reacted to the election of Evo Morales with the publication of an analysis that showed concern and prudence. The general opinion of those consulted was that the election implied risks for “democracy” (traditional argument of the conservative media in front of a progressive government), but that it is possible to maintain control over the country and not to let it move away from policies traditionally followed.
Reacting after its colleagues, the centre-left Spanish journal El País devotes its most recent “opinion” pages to the political re-orientation of Latin America by publishing opinions that are closer to those expressed by the government of José Luis Zapatero. As to the election of Evo Morales, the journal publishes two points of view that are generally in favour of the goals announced by the Bolivian President and which give a relative nature to the “revolutionary” character of his policy.
On the other hand, Spain’s former socialist President Felipe González denies the revolutionary nature of the change in Bolivia. He says that it is just a political alternation that does not imply any changes to the existing model but that is trying to eliminate political stagnation and social inequalities. He praises Morales’s economic and institutional program and he predicts a promising future. His only concern is that the absence of national unity and consensus may have an adverse effect in the development of the country.
Uruguayan Enrique V. Iglesias, General Secretary of the Conference of Iberoamerican countries, shares this opinion. For him, the political changes in Latin America are just the continuation of the emancipation process that began at the end of the Cold War period when the countries of the region realized that they could solve their own problems without the United States. Now, the democratization of Latin American regimes and the reaction to the wrongful economic policies of the 1980’s are taking new leaders to power, who want to emancipate themselves from the United States and get closer to Europe. Although he represents Spain in Venezuela, ambassador Raúl Morodo promotes Venezuela in Spain, not the other way around. Morodo affirms in El País, a journal close to the Socialist Party, that the Bolivarian government is an expression of democratic populism that gives voice to people traditionally ignored by politics, which at the same time allows for social advancements and the preservation of democracy. He adds that for the model to be perfect it is necessary to achieve national consensus. However, the ambassador does not hesitate to present this system as a possible model of development for all the Latin American sub-continent. As a matter of fact, by praising President Chávez, the ambassador legitimizes the re-orientation of the Spanish policy carried out by the government of José Luis Zapatero. In effect, the previous government, led by conservative José María Aznar, supported the failed coup d’état against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. [1] and led the European Union to adopt an aggressive policy towards Cuba. Of course, Latin American politicians who follow the United States do not like the current political changes in the region. However, when analyzing the “leftist” governments that have recently taken power, they establish a difference between a “respectable” left, which bow to the authority of the United States, and a “populist” left, represented by Hugo Chávez, whom they blame for all the evils. The International Herald Tribune, an affiliate of the New York Times, publishes the opinion of these followers of Washington.
Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda showers the leftist “responsible” governments with praise from the geo-strategic point of view, that is, those submitted to the United States. He affirms that these governments can develop their countries. In turn, he criticizes Venezuela, a symbol of a “populist” leftist tradition. However, he says that if Brazil and the United States handle the situation in an effective way, they can correct Evo Morales’s natural leaning to the second trend, a conclusion already drawn by Peruvian analyst Alvaro Vargas Llosa in the same journal on December 28, 2005.
For his part, Enrique Horst, a former official at the United Nations, who is a current member of the Venezuelan opposition, continues with his media attacks against President Hugo Chávez, whom he already accused, in conflict with the opinion of international observers, of having manipulated the revocation referendum. Horst is one of those who affirm that there are two left trends in Latin America: a virtuous one, represented by Lula or the Chilean governments of Ricardo Lagos and now Michelle Bachelet, and an anti-democratic Left represented, of course, by Hugo Chávez. As we can see, the pro-American sectors do not regard Michelle Bachelet as an adversary although European journals see her election as the confirmation of the changes in Latin America. However, Mrs. Bachelet was only the candidate of the party in power, a party that implemented a neo-liberal economic policy and supported Washington in its continental negotiations.
Under the pretext that Michelle Bachelet is a woman, the western mainstream media speak about the change that her election supposedly represents and praise, in an absurd way, the biological difference between her and her mentor, Ricardo Lagos, thus denying her ideological continuity. The “socialist” Michelle Bachelet was particularly promoted in France by the centre-leftist media as the Chilean elections took place at the same time as an intense marketing campaign in favour of French socialist Segolene Royale, the media’s favourite candidate for the French left, who also participated in the campaign of the new Chilean president.
In the Colombian journal El Tiempo, writer Sergio Ramírez, ex Vice-president of Nicaragua, praises the pragmatism of Michelle Bachelet. Greeting the new president, Ramírez makes reference to the consensus that Bachelet managed to achieve with the Chilean military when she held the post of Defence Minister. In other words, while others praise the change that Bachelet could bring, Ramírez hails the conservatism she showed when dealing with the Chilean military, still holding enormous power.
On the other side of the political board, Marc Cooper, American journalist of The Nation and former member of the press service of Salvador Allende, is more doubtful. In Los Angeles Times, he recognizes the symbol that the election of an agnostic single mother represents in a country whose customs seem to have stopped changing since 1973, but he does not seem to expect much more from her. He recalls that Chilean “socialists” never endangered the existing social inequalities in Chile, inherited from the brutal capitalism implemented by the junta of General Pinochet, and he thinks that Michelle Bachelet may keep that line. Although he does not hope to be heard, he asks the new president to reform the retirement system and social security, to reduce the military budget and to send Pinochet to court.
In a country that is still deeply marked by the crimes of the dictatorship, the pseudo-liberal right and the social-democratic left are still searching for a national consensus based on a common denominator. As a result, for example, we see a significant convergence in the economic sector. The difference between both sides lies on the issue of democracy: on one side we see a pseudo-liberal right ashamed of an nostalgic for the Pinochet era, and, on the other, we see a social-democratic left willing to make many concessions to avoid reviving the ordeal they had to suffer. At the same time, beyond the political continuity that is imposed in this context to any elected ruler, the real meaning of the Chileans’ vote is in another level, which expresses their will to take another step toward national reconciliation following a formula that respects justice demands. Anyway, although the program of the Chilean government does not imply any breaking-off, the change in Latin America is a real fact that disturbs the supporters of the Monroe Doctrine in the United States. In the Washington Times, Susan Segal and Eric Farnsworth, of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, urge the United States to pay more attention to the Latin American continent. For both writers, Washington should not only favour its own commercial interests but the American elites have to become aware of the crucial importance of the southern region of their continent.