by Mark Weisbrot
The electoral victory of left economist Rafael Correa marks the eighth time in the last 8 years that a presidential candidate running against the "Washington Consensus" or "neoliberal" reforms in Latin America has won. (This does not count the re-elections of Lula Da Silva of Brazil and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela). This is out of 11 elections where such a candidate existed, and in the three remaining elections - Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru - the left candidate came very close. In fact, in Mexico Andres Manual Lopez Obrador may even have won - we don't know because the election was very close and there were so many irregularities; and Oton Solis of Costa Rica, who lost a recount on March 7 by 1.2 percent, was a victim of bad polling: pre-election polls erroneously showed him to be trailing by an insurmountable margin, leading to a record-low turnout.
I have written about the Ecuadorian election elsewhere, and also about the economic issues in that election. But most importantly, what we are witnessing in this continuing leftward sweep is the people going over the heads of their political establishment and leaders (including economists), in an attempt to force desperately needed changes in economic policy. The long term growth failure in Latin America over the last 25 years has been unprecedented, but the established institutions and political parties have been unwilling to change policy and in many cases to even recognize the failure.
We might even view our own election on November 7 as the U.S. joining most of the rest of the Americas in this sense. Although the biggest issue for voters was the war, there was plenty of evidence that our own country's long-term economic failure played a role. (See also this excellent op-ed by the man who tipped the balance in the U.S. Senate, Jim Webb of Virginia). Of course it is important to understand that the US economic failure is of a very different kind than what happened in Latin America: in Latin America, economic growth collapsed. In the U.S., economic growth has been reasonable over the last 30 years, but we have instead suffered a massive upward redistribution of income. But in both places, the policy failures remain unrecognized by most politicians and pundits - thus contributing to the revolts at the ballot box.
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