Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

The Rise of the Loony Left

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, Januray 3, 2006 --  

When leftist politician Evo Morales was elected president of the poor South American nation of Bolivia, the local elite and political observers in Washington gritted their teeth. Already sore from a constant series of anti-American jibes coming from Venezuela's intractable leftist president Hugo Chavez, the last thing the Bush administration wanted in the region was yet another adversary.

Recent events show that the Americans certainly have gotten one. After solidarity meeting with Cuba's Marxist dictator in Havana, Bolivia's president-elect flew to Venezuela for a rally with Chavez. Together, the men declared a new "Axis of Good" and declared that Washington is the real "Axis of Evil."

Such bombastic anti-American statements would once have earned an American invasion -- as succeeded in Panama and Grenada, and was attempted in Cuba -- or at the very least a CIA-sponsored insurgency as in Nicaragua. But given the collapse of the world communist movement, the semi-coherent rantings of a few crackpot leaders in Latin America are barely enough to make America take notice. The sad truth is that the economic torture of Latin America just doesn't matter to America anymore.

Aside from a few recycled bromides from the Marxist era, South America's new generation of leftist leaders are more populist than Marxist. They may share the Marxists' redistributionist impulses, but mostly as a means of rewarding the poor masses who elected them. Such efforts are therefore little different from the political payoffs given to supporters of countless other politicians around the world. The primary distinction is that it often takes a bigger chunk of money to pay off the masses compared with a tiny elite.

Fortunately for Chavez and Morales, both countries have ample reserves of fossil fuels with which to fund their populist plans -- oil in Venezuela, and natural gas in Bolivia. It was over the very issue of natural gas that Morales found his path to power. After leading often violent protests against the government's cooperation with foreign gas companies, Morales was able to channel the protest movement into a popular revolution.

So long as oil and gas prices remain high, the redistributionist agendas of Chavez and Morales will likely succeed in making modest gains in living standards of the impoverished majority of their nations. The trouble, however, comes when petroleum prices fall, or when the reserves eventually begin to run out. Unless something else is built, the people of Venezuela and Bolivia will find themselves in a declining economy with nothing to keep them going. This is exactly what happened in Venezuela after the decline of oil prices in the 1980s.

Back then, however, it was the corrupt centrist and rightist political elites that had squandered the country's oil wealth. In South America, the marginally-honest, free-market-oriented leaders needed to significantly grow national economies have been few and far between. Two recent exceptions, Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet and Peru's former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, are completely discredited by the bloody abuses committed during their years of rule. Today, both men live under arrest.

What's left is a very sad political landscape for South America. After a century of choosing between corrupt centrist politicians and bloody rightist dictators, South American voters have turned to the loony left to see if they can solve their problems. Clearly, they can't. Let's just hope the voters get wise to this reality before another century of stagnation grips the continent.


1. BBC News, Bolivia 'to join Chavez's fight', January 3, 2005