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Leftists Gaining Ground in Latin America

Posted July. 26, 2002 22:37,   


▽Flourishing Leftists

Leftist politicians are prevailing especially in Argentina and Brazil, both of which were economic powerhouses in Latin America, but are now going through the worst kind of economic crises.

Argentina rescheduled the presidential election from September next year to March mainly due to the worsening economic situation. In the country, leftist congressman Elisa Carrio is taking lead in polls. Now her approval rate reaches 20%, a lot higher than trailing former president Carlos Menem, presidential hopeful of the ruling Peron party. Law professor-turned-politician Carrio pledged to sever ties with the IMF. She argues that the main culprit behind the nation`s financial instability is market openness and privatization recommended by the IMF. She maintains that economic reform departing from the IMF is the only way to keep Argentina rolling.

In the presidential election in Brazil, which is slated for October, leftist opposition candidate Luiz Inacio da Silva is expected to be elected as president over government-backed candidate Jose Serra. The priority in his policy agenda is the expansion of government spending. Silva said that Brazil is now shouldering a whopping 300billion dollars in debt, but still the nation should expand government spending to reduce unemployment rate and root out poverty.

In Bolivia, Evo Morales of the Social Party ranked second in the first round of presidential election held last month. His ever-rising popularity is mainly thanks to his election pledge of reducing debts of farmers by legalizing drug farming. The US, which has suffered from the influx of Bolivian drugs, warned Bolivia last month of suspending economic aid for the country if Morales is elected as president.

But the US threats only helped his popularity further rise. Morales will face an uphill battle in the second round of the presidential election next month against former president Gosalo Sanches de Rosada, presidential candidate of the ruling party.

In other Latin American countries that don`t have any plan for elections, leftist political parties are extending their reaches through organized protesters.

Peru`s Labor Party organized a group of demonstrators protesting the sale of the state-owned power company to a foreign company and forced the government to withdraw from the sale. The Social Party, the largest opposition party in Paraguay, leads a demonstration protesting privatization of the public power company. Paraguayan government had to declare a state of emergency. The opposition Democratic Citizen`s Party in Ecuador also waged a demonstration in opposition to sell 17 state-owned power distribution companies.

▽Economic Recovery still in Question

Leftist politicians in Latin America are advocating protectionist policy clamoring for the nationalization of industries and the expansion of government spending.

That is because the liberalization promoted by Rightist governments in the 1990s only resulted in rising unemployment rate and economic downturn. But experts say that leftist politicians` policy of promoting the expansion of government spending is not feasible especially at a time when tax revenues are nose-diving in most of Latin American countries.

Also if these countries sever ties with the IMF, foreign investment will further decline. In Brazil, as Silva is expected to win the presidential election, the value of the real has continued to the lowest record every day. And the foreign direct investment, which amounted to 30 million dollars last year, is expected to hover around 20 billon dollars this year.

Peter Hakim, director of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research institute studying economies in Latin America, said that with the emergence of the leftist force, the three major policies of democracy, free market and pro-America that ruled Latin America in the 1990s were gone. He added that leftist regimes could put an end to the public unrest in the short term, but don`t have specific plan for economic development over the mid and long term.

Mi-Kyung Jung mickey@donga.com