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Moving to the left
Posted: Monday, January 6, 2003

Editorial, TT Express

LAST week's inauguration of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva following his victory in last October's general election marks an emerging trend in Latin America that has seen a marked shift to the leftist, populist movements in South America.

There have been similar election results in economically challenged Ecuador following the trend started by Venezuela, which elected former paratrooper and failed coup plotter Hugo Chavez to office with an overwhelming mandate.

Silva, like Chavez, has taken power with a promise to end poverty in what is, to some extent, quite a rich country. Brazil has a land-mass larger than the continental United States and shares borders with all but two South American countries, but as much as 80 per cent of its population is estimated to live in poverty.

"If at the end of my mandate all Brazilians have the possibility to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner," Silva said at his inauguration, "then I will have fulfilled the mission of my life."

Similar concerns in Ecuador have seen the fall of Abdala Bucaram and victory for the Lucio Gutierrez, who promised to end the growing impoverishment of his countrymen. Bucaram had promised to tame IMF-mandated austerity policies that were adversely affecting the bulk of the population, but fell victim to a wave of protests over rising unemployment and inflation as the economic measures simply failed to work.

But as Chavez has discovered in Venezuela, and the new leaders in Brazil and Ecuador will soon realise, bringing prosperity to impoverished masses in countries with a long history of unequal income distribution is going to be extremely difficult to realise. Their election, however, shows that voters are willing to look outside established parties and candidates following repeated failures by the status quo.

With similar economic problems in Argentina, Costa Rica and a number of other countries, and with the military no longer an option, it is not surprising that leaders like Silva and Chavez are seen as saviours.

The Venezuelan experience has shown, however, that there are no easy solutions to the deep-seated economic problems affecting many countries all over the world as a result of globalisation. Latin American countries, more so than much of the world, are characterised by wide income disparities now being aggravated by IMF/World Bank policies which seek to restrain the ability of many governments to redistribute wealth through subsidies and other transfer payments.

The repeated failures of regional governments are leading voters to the left and the only options yet to be tried. President Chavez has shown, however, that it will take more than an overwhelming mandate and loads of goodwill to transform the life of the poor.

And there is an important lesson for us here. While Trinidad and Tobago does not share the same problems afflicting much of Latin America, we do have an estimated 20 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. The rising crime levels and the growing dependence on criminal gang or "community" leaders in some parts of the country suggest that not everyone is benefiting from what the last two administrations have insisted are a series of measures aimed at alleviating poverty.

Voters are losing patience with political parties and systems that don't deliver and more and more are willing to take chances with the untried and untested and anyone offering simple, if ultimately impossible, solutions.

In Venezuela it is Chavez, in Brazil, Silva, if all else fails, in Trinidad and Tobago, it could very well be Abu Bakr.

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