Latin America is the lost continent when it comes to the Western media. In-depth news or analysis is rare - the norm is to present the week’s top story in a sound bite. Hugo Chávez’s recent foolish embrace of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a case in point - although the Venezuelan President and his antics certainly share some responsibility for the negative coverage of his government.
In the past couple of months, two developments in the region stand out as meriting closer attention: the election in Ecuador of a progressive economist as president, and the move by South American governments toward establishing a form of governance loosely modelled on the European Union.
Rafael Correa’s capture of the Ecuadorian presidency, with 56.67 per cent of the vote, certainly surprised many observers.
A grassroots campaign was largely responsible for encouraging the country’s large Indigenous organisations to vote against Correa’s rival candidate, the billionaire banana magnate Álvaro Noboa. Larry Birns, the Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, writes that “Noboa’s unparalleled expenditure of money - some of it handed out personally by him - was a hardly-concealed effort to buy an election.” Another observer reported that critics charged Noboa with buying votes by “giving away computers, wheelchairs, bags of rice, medicine and cash along his $2.3 million campaign trail”, which was more than “twice the legal limit for campaign spending”.
For many Ecuadorians who were treated to Noboa’s spectacle (including his kneeling to publicly pray before speeches), Correa certainly appeared to have more credibility.
Correa believes Ecuador’s export oil contracts must to be renegotiated on more favourable terms, while Washington’s huge military base in Manta will have to go, unless the United States “let us put a military base in Miami”. In 2005 he resigned as Finance Minister because ex-president Alfredo Palacio continued to embrace neo-liberal economics.
A self described Left-wing Christian humanist, Correa’s rhetorical eloquence, his fluency in Spanish, English, French and Quechua, along with his PhD in economics may indeed make the 43-year-old one of the most formidable politicians to come out of Latin America in recent years.
Even before his inauguration, Correa flew to Caracas to sign co-operation agreements while paving the way for his country’s possible admission into the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) - Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro’s counter-proposal to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
Correa’s victory and the establishment of ALBA, among other developments, present a serious challenge to the traditional role of the US in Latin America, which, in part, explains the poor coverage of these events in the Western media.
Most reports portray Venezuela, Bolivia and now Ecuador, as the “radicals” (Cuba is a special case), while Brazil, Argentina and Chile are viewed as the “sensible” administrations who will not upset the markets, place restraints on capital speculation and extreme forms of privatisation, or redirect state revenue towards the general population.
Contradictions, rivalry and disappointments certainly exist in the “pink tide” washing through Latin America at the moment, but there is a point of commonality: regional integration and a shift away from US power.
As the news of Pinochet’s death spread throughout the world last December, the leaders of 12 countries - including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay - met in a two-day summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The agreement produced from this gathering, the “Cochabamba Declaration”, noted that the Cold War “brought with it a weakening of multilateralism,” however:
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