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South America in 2014: Populism is Still Here, but Weakened

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Jan 10, 2014, 11:32 am

Español The New Year begins in South America with a majority of governments representing moderate or radical collectivist ideologies. Ten countries, out of 13, fall into this category: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Guyana, and Surinam.

Only Paraguay and Colombia — with presidential elections in May — remain close to any market orientation, though both are privileged members among their peers in multilateral forums such as Unasur, Mercosur, or Alba, where collectivism still reigns.

Overall, South America’s collectivist left is economically open and keen on internal and external political dialogue. They do not have much choice: internal struggles and international realities impose themselves on the agenda. Drug trafficking, crime, poverty, unemployment, inflation, and economic downturn remain pressing issues. The region grew less than expected in 2013: 2.6 percent according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The Peruvian government led by Ollanta Humala, though allegedly a statist, is one of the most open in the region. They have kept constant dialogues with the national parties and foreign governments, particularly with most market-oriented in the region. As analyst Luis Esteban Manrique says, “with average growth of 6 percent since 2000 and a 2.5 percent inflation rate, the Andean country has become one of the most open economies in the region, signing trade agreements with the European Union, the United States, China, Japan, and South Korea, among others.”

Dilma Rousseff’s government is also likely to open more. Brazil is anticipating continued demonstrations and further economic slowdown, as well as an event that will put the Brazilian reputation to the test — the FIFA World Cup. Rousseff needs good results if she wants to be reelected in October’s presidential elections.

Governments closer to the Bolivarian project, such as Ecuador or Bolivia, have also taken some steps towards openness, though more economic than political. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa has pursued an open economy and open trade for foreigners, including the European Union and the United States. He managed to end the year with a decent growth — according to ECLAC, 3.8 percent, ranking among the highest in the region.

But that did not stop him from consolidating his authoritarian power in 2013. Correa took up all government functions and refused to open political dialogue with the opposition in his country.

Naturally, exceptions remain to this openness trend in authoritarian governments, particularly with the most radical Marxists. Venezuela is experiencing major setbacks, as the government continues down the path of the Cuban communist dictatorship. To a lesser degree, the Argentinean government has also decided to jump on the populist, statist train.

Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan government simply rejects democratic and pluralist political dialogue. He applies seriously misguided statist economic policies. And his anti-imperialism is hypocritical, since Venezuela depends economically on the United States, and politically on Cuba.

Venezuela’s growth rates are the lowest in the South American region, and this situation is not likely to change in 2014. Inflation, unemployment, criminality, insecurity, and social inequality are outrageously high, considering the resources Venezuela has as an oil-producing nation.

These attitudes towards openness prove that the South American leaders are conscious that the golden age of the Lula da Silva and Hugo Chávez leaderships has passed. Governments that call themselves socialists do not have the same strength and influence as before. Furthermore, as a result of interventionist policies and their wreckage, the time has come for political and economical openness.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.