Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A good day for the left in Latin America

Chavistas March Forward

Hugo Chavez was sworn in for his third consecutive term as President of Venezuela today.

One of his first major announcements following the inauguration was a call for legislators to amend the constitution so he can run again. Under the present Venezuelan constitution the president is limited to a maximum of three six-year terms. Chavez wants "unlimited" terms, so he can stay in office well beyond his current 2013 deadline. He also wants the Congress to give him the power to enact laws without their consent, or in other words, rule by decree.

People accuse Chavez of being a communist tyrant in the making, and gestures like this don't do much to disprove it.

Chavez has also promised to further entrench socialism in his second term, with the first gesture being the complete nationalization of the country's telephone and electric companies. But these are matters for the higher-brow political commentators to discuss, so we won't get into it here. If you are interested in reading a critique of Chavez from a Venezuelan perspective, I encourage you to read the fine blog "Caracas Chronicles" which offers highly readable commentary on Venezuelan politics (in English!).

Sandinistas too

Chavez did not have much time to get settled after his swearing in, however. He had to high-tail it out of Venezuela and head over to Nicaragua, where his friend was getting sworn in as president of that country. Chavez showed up late, but the Nicaraguans were nice enough to delay the entire ceremony for him. Which just shows where the affinities of the new regime rest.

The new president of Nicaragua is actually the old president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega. His election in November was one of the most dramatic and controversial political comebacks in history.

In 1979 Ortega led a broad-based coup against the regime of the former Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Though Ortega himself was a Marxist, his junta was initially non-partisan, and consisted of a variety of high-profile anti-Somoza dissidents. But as the years went on Ortega consolidated more and more power for himself (he upgraded from "junta co-ordinator" to president in 1985 and wrote a new constitution in 1987), and moved the Nicaraguan government in a radical leftist, Cuban-style direction. This prompted the breakdown of his alliance, and eventually led to full-on civil war between Ortega-led Marxist militias (the "Sandinistas") and armed gangs of political dissidents (the "Contras").

This being the Cold War, the United States backed the dissidents, while the Cubans and Soviets supported Ortega's people. Thousands died in the violence, and under pressure Ortega held presidential elections in 1990, which he lost to one of his former junta members, Violeta Chamorro.
Ortega did not go quietly into the night, however. He restructured his Sandinistas into a democratic political party and led an effective political opposition to the Chamorro government, and her two successors. The Sandinistas held the plurality of seats in the Nicaraguan parliament for much of the 1990-2006 period, which ensured continued influence in the lawmaking process. Ortega himself contested every presidential election, and though he was never successful, he remained a popular figure and always had a strong showing.

Then in November of 2006 Ortega's dream finally came true, and he was narrowly elected back to the presidency with 38% of the popular vote.

All this puts the Bush administration in a weird place. Nicaragua and the US are now close allies, but how do you justify friendly relations with a president whom Republicans previously spent untold millions trying to overthrow? Mainstream observers are now playing up Ortega's newfound "moderation." Since 1990, the man has slowly evolved towards the political center, becoming less of a Castroite Marxist and more of a pragmatic social democrat. He seems to have had something of a religious awakening as well. A few months ago his party supported a super-strict anti-abortion bill, with terms far harsher than anything that even the most fanatical Republican could ever hope of getting away with.

A good line summarizing the careers of both Chavez and Ortega can be found in this article by the UK Guardian:

Mr Chavez, a social democrat turned US-bashing communist revolutionary, had a plane waiting to whisk him to the Nicaraguan capital to congratulate Mr Ortega, a US-bashing communist revolutionary turned social democrat.
Trivia time

1. Ortega's homies

One fun thing about inaugurations is that they tend to attract a high-profile audience. Along with Chavez, Ortega managed to get a number of heads of state and almost-heads of state to attend his big to-do. Each guest projects his own symbolic relevance:
  • Felipe, Crown Prince of Spain- historic friendship, Felipe is the heir to the throne of the nation that originally colonized Nicaragua.

  • Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia- ideological allies, showing left-wing solidarity across the continent

  • President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan- Nicaragua is one of about two dozen small countries that recognizes the government of Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. For this, the Taiwanese are eternally grateful.

2. Pinko tide

With Ortega now formally in power, the much ballyhooed leftist sweep of Latin America continues. Only a couple countries in that part of the world are still ruled by center-right parties, while all the most important ones remain firmly in the hands of left-wingers of varying stripes.

I've made a handy map which charts who's ruled by who, which you can see at the right here. The map will stay static for a little while, there aren't going to be any presidential elections in Latin America until the fall of 2007.

3. The end of neckties

For as long as there have been neckties there have been those who have denounced them as stuffy, uncomfortable symbols of snobbishness and corporate conformity. As more and more super-populist anti-establishment men continue to take power around the world, we are beginning to witness a rather interesting revolution in political dress.

At one time, it would have gone without saying that a Latin American president would wear a solemn suit and tie ensemble to his national inauguration. But Ortega just wore a loose white dress shirt and slacks, as you can see in the photo above. 30 years ago that would have been the height of disrespect, but today such under-dressing just shows off what a true man of the people you are.

Ortega will join the ranks of other notable non-tie wearing world leaders around the globe, including:


matt said...

Doesn't Obama sport the tie-less look as well? :p

Anonymous said...

The really funny thing about this post is its attempt to appear unbiased. Yet, it only attempts to appear unbiased against the socialist dictators, and is rather biased AGAINST conservative Americans.

megs said...

As an American with vaguely conservative leanings (libertarian), I have to say it's not biased. Some conservatives do want harsh anti-abortion legislation. That's not bias.

Ortega's moderation, if for real, sounds like the direction I'd personally like to see countries with a history of marxism and extreme socialism move in. It seems like all they've had to choose from are extremes for so long in many of the countries in south and latin america. Chavez' swing to more extreme makes me hope he'll be ousted.
Also, I really like the no-tie look. Poor men's fashion. It doesn't get to change too often.

centerfield48 said...

Costa Rica's government isn't really conservative; the new President, Óscar Arias, is from the social-democratic PLN. Also, Suriname's government is centrist/center-right, not center-left.

Jonathan said...

It seems unbias to me. Ortega is a monster, but he knows what can happen if he pushes his luck too far. Nicaragua should be ashamed of themselves for voting him back in, and I hope no one does anything to help them when Ortega reverts.

Sean said...

"At one time, it would have gone without saying that a Latin American president would wear a solemn suit and tie ensemble to his national inauguration."

I would have thought it would have gone without saying that they wore high-ranking army fatigues. Didn't you read "Tintin and the Picaros"!

Anonymous said...

Jordan and Mary, you must learn to read English.
If anything, this post, while attempting to... whatever it's attempting, it is fully biased against the socialist democratically-elected presidents, thus not biased AT ALL againts conservative Americans.

The author is so dum to compare Morales to the Iranian guy; he worships the high-ranking army fatigues.