A new wind is blowing in Latin America. While the Republicans scored major victories in the U.S. midterm elections last week, our neighbors to the south have been moving in a different direction.
Last month, left-wing candidates won presidential elections in Bolivia and Brazil. And in Uruguay, the Broad Front is likely to win the presidency for the third consecutive time in the runoff election there at the end of this month.
In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first woman president, won re-election, bringing a fourth consecutive term to the Workers’ Party. After discarding neoliberalism, the Workers’ Party has turned Brazil into one of the world’s top 10 economies. And Rousseff’s party has brought 40 million Brazilians out of poverty. Its hunger eradication program was such a success in reducing malnutrition and extreme poverty that its director, Jose Graziano Da Silva, was tapped by the United Nations to run the Food and Agriculture Organization.
But the real stunner is Bolivia. President Evo Morales, of the Movement Toward Socialism, was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote. Under Morales, Bolivia’s economic growth rate is the highest in South America. Its foreign exchange reserves relative to GDP are also the region’s highest. This has been possible thanks to his nationalization of economic sectors like oil, mining and electricity, and his investments in social sectors like health and education.His policies have lifted more than 1 million Bolivians (that’s one-tenth of the population) out of poverty, and the country’s unemployment rate is the lowest in Latin America.
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This leftward trend is being felt all over the region.
Last year, Nicolas Maduro was elected by the Venezuelan people to continue the work of his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
And in Ecuador, President Rafael Correa was re-elected last year in spite of rabid right-wing opposition.
In Central America, the Sandinistas are enjoying their second consecutive term in Nicaragua’s presidency.
And in El Salvador, the former guerrilla organization FMLN retained the country’s presidency in the elections last February.
The nations in the region are organizing themselves into a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which explicitly excludes the United States and Canada, and thus could relegate the U.S.-led Organization of American States to irrelevance.
The United States is losing ground in Latin America, both economically and diplomatically, as the region increases its trade with China, India and Russia.
Times have changed. This is a new Latin America, and the fine folks in Washington, D.C., better get used to it.
Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to Latin America as the U.S. “backyard.”
This was an insult to the proud and independent nations of Latin America.
They are not U.S. property, and the sooner Washington realizes that, the better.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.
©2014 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero