Thursday, June 08, 2006

Jun 08/06 - On the Chávez effect: Los Angeles attentive

Los Angeles Times


The Chavez effect

Venezuela's president casts a shadow over Latin American politics

June 8, 2006

ANTI-IMPERIALISM IS ON THE RISE in parts of Latin America, but the resented empire isn't always the United States. The hemisphere's new bully is oil-rich Venezuela and its demagogic president, Hugo Chavez. Thankfully, people in neighboring countries are finding Chavez's intrusive drivel about "Bolivarian" solidarity (peddled alongside anti-American diatribes) increasingly tiresome.

That was the resounding message of Sunday's presidential vote in Peru. In a runoff election, Peruvians elected a deeply flawed former president, Alan Garcia, mainly because his opponent was backed aggressively by Chavez.

That opponent, Ollanta Humala, is a Chavez wannabe, a bombastic former military man who led a failed coup attempt against then-President Alberto Fujimori in 2000. Humala basked in Chavez's support during the campaign, and the Venezuelan president called Garcia a "swine" and a "scoundrel." In celebrating his triumph, Garcia noted, "The only person defeated today was Hugo Chavez."

Polls showed an overwhelming majority of Peruvians resented Chavez's interference — the two countries even broke off diplomatic relations during the campaign — and the man who wanted to join Chavez's anti-American gang went down in defeat.

But Americans may not want to celebrate Garcia's win too much. When he governed in the 1980s, Garcia was not exactly a reliable ally or a responsible leader. He recklessly drove the country into a hyper-inflationary depression and failed to contain a guerrilla war. (He now claims to have learned from his mistakes.)

In neighboring Colombia, voters resoundingly reelected someone who is a reliable U.S. ally — and another Chavez nemesis — the week before the Peruvian vote. In his four years in office, Alvaro Uribe, a conservative, has done a remarkable job of strengthening the rule of law, stabilizing the economy and taking on the country's drug-financed guerrillas. Uribe has a strained relationship with Chavez, to put it mildly, a fact that clearly didn't hurt his popularity.

And there are signs that Chavez's influence, or anti-influence, is extending north in Latin America. In Mexico, leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has gone to great lengths to distance himself from Chavez after opposition ads comparing the two men (a comparison that is a stretch) hurt Obrador's standing in the polls. Chavez's attacks on President Vicente Fox did not go over well in Mexico. Obrador is rightly eager not to be associated with the bully from Caracas.