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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The left scare

    Vanessa Valenzuelacolumnist
    Vanessa Valenzuela

    “”The new left axis,”” “”the great shift left,”” “”the return to the left””: They’re all catchphrases that have made their way into the headlines of popular media sources. They refer to political changes that have been taking place in Latin America and seem to imply that the entire area is leaning toward the left.

    The historical election that really put momentum behind this media trend was last year’s election of Evo Morales as president of Bolivia. Morales’ win was significant for democracy in the country, as he was the first president of indigenous descent in the country, which has an overwhelming indigenous population.

    This fact received considerable attention in the media; however, it took a back seat to scrutiny of Morales’ intended policy changes. Upon taking office, Morales promised sweeping changes in the areas of economics and international relations that made the U.S. uneasy.

    Morales cut ties with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and promised to support the poor cocoa growers of the nation. This action, coupled with plans for other policy changes, signaled the outside world that Bolivia would indeed be taking a giant step to the left under Morales’ leadership.

    Morales thus joined the leftist ranks of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner. Candidates currently running in Mexico and Peru look as though they too will be added to this group in the near future.

    But many reports and discussions of this phenomenon have irresponsibly included countries that don’t really belong on the list.

    Looking at the policies of countries across Latin America, it is hard to find evidence that the majority of Latin America is headed left. Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Oscar Arias in Costa Rica and Tabare Vǭzquez in Uruguay are generally staying in the center by sticking to their macroeconomic policies in order to promote stability and growth.

    These leaders continue to stand by their prudent policies and the retention of liberalizing reforms in the 1990s that have been commended by Washington, the IMF and others. Many of these leaders have realized that they can’t make the social changes needed in their countries if they attempt to veer from these policies and allocate money to social programs at the same time.

    Lula has maintained the economic regime of his predecessor and has earned the confidence of bankers and investors who allow the country to make feasible plans for social change. Arias has also maintained his macroeconomic policies, and his country is stable enough that it can pursue a plan to increase education spending from six to eight percent of its gross domestic product.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we see Chavez doing the opposite as he nationalizes oil and changes other economic policies while simultaneously promising huge social projects – the likes of which have had mixed outcomes for Venezuelans during Chavez’s six years in office.

    Obviously, there is a lot of diversity in the policies and actions of leaders in these countries, and not all of these policies and actions can be lumped together in an attempt to show that Latin America is unilaterally shifting left. The headlines that do this only add to the assumption that the leftward leanings of some Latin American leaders are indicative of what is occurring politically and economically in all of Latin America.

    This dynamic region deserves dynamic coverage in order to depict what is really going on, instead of simply throwing around words like left, axis, populist and socialist that often have negative connotations, especially in the U.S.

    Vanessa Valenzuela is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies. She can be reached at

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