New Latin American Leadership – Challenge to US
Dr. Bikram Lamba
Bush Administration is caught in a bind. It is losing the sheen and is back to the days of when the Americans were perceived to be dirty dicks. The American at home is as angry as the Iraqi. But the new leadership that has emerged in Latin America is likely to be a major headache for US strategists. For them a new axis of evil seems to be emerging- Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba has been there for ages.
This change comes as a string of politicians who promised much but delivered little were forced from office – often by angry crowds – in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. Evo Morales, an indigenous India, has been elected president of Bolivia for the first time and the people of Chile have elected their first-ever woman president. With elections looming in several other Latin American countries, there are signs of gloom in White House. This change is called “Pachakutic” in local language. It means a change in the sun, which will bring a new era. According to ancient beliefs, the last Pachakutic began with the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago and is due to come to an end about now. They see a new cycle beginning. The end of the “Pachakamac”, or the world turned upside down.
The 1980s saw the introduction of US-inspired, neo-liberalist free market policies across Latin America. Many economists hailed them as a success in Chile but they were perceived as a failure elsewhere, most notably in Argentina where the economy collapsed four years ago. In Bolivia, unemployment tripled and infant mortality rose. “The modernity they promised only came to the banks, the telecommunications industry and the petrol companies,” said one economist.
Now the voters seem to be demanding something new. Half the ministers in Michelle Bachelet’s new cabinet in Chile will be female.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America despite its huge natural gas deposits. Before gas it had tin and before that silver and gold. A small number of Bolivians and the foreign investors they worked with became very rich. Little of that wealth reached the majority of poor Bolivians. Sewage runs down the sides of the streets and there are more women wearing traditional Indian dress, topped with a bowler hat. This in a country where more than 60% of the population are Indians, many of them still speaking their original languages, Quechua and Aymara.
And here comes the new Messiah, Evo Morales, who in his youth herded llamas high in the Bolivian mountains and went on to become a coca leaf farmer, is the first indigenous Indian to serve as his country’s president. He not only looks different, but acts different. He wears a stripy red, white and blue alpaca wool jumper, not on his days off but while shaking hands with kings and presidents. He is the breed of leaders.
Another new leader who does not wear a tie is Michelle Bachelet, elected last Sunday as Chile’s first woman president. Already ex-steel worker, Lula, leads Brazil and Hugo Chavez – a populist former army commander – runs Venezuela. To make matters worse for US Administration populist former army officer, Ollanta Humala, is running against a conservative woman, Lourdes Flores, in elections in Peru in April.
This portends end of era. The age of the conservative middle-aged man in a gray suit, representing the white-skinned landed elite across Latin America is apparently over..
The bosses in Washington and many foreign investors are wary of the change. They have to be. President Evo Morales has said customers will have to pay more for Bolivia’s gas. What a fall for US interest. And this is lesson for US. It is the end of Super Cop concept. The wave of optimism sweeping across a region desperate for change and keen to try something new is a sign of resurgence of life in a region that is marked by poverty.
Dr. Bikram Lamba is a political and management strategist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ph. 905 8484205.