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The impact of Alan Garcia's victory on the Latin American political scenario

By Gustavo Coronel

June 6, 2006 | The first thing that has to be said in connection with the victory of Alan Garcia in the Peruvian presidential elections is that it represents a major defeat for Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan dictator wannabe. Chávez intervened in the electoral process of Peru in a vulgar and gross manner. He paid for Humala's trip to Venezuela, where he was received as a hero of the revolution. He has been accused of financing Humala's campaign. He sent his aide de camp, Jorge Rodriguez, former President of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, to Lima, to act as Humala's electoral adviser and bodyguard. He actually went on record to say, "if Garcia wins, I will recall the Venezuelan Ambassador from Peru." He called Garcia "a thief and a disgrace" and called President Alejandro Toledo a "swamp crocodile." Never in Venezuela's history has a President had acted in such a loutish manner in his international relations with countries that are friendly to ours. The only explanation for this bizarre behavior is that Chávez is mentally unbalanced. In fact there are medical opinions that are saying just that. Dr. Maria Cristina Ortega, a Venezuelan psychiatrist, says Chávez is abnormal but she is not the only one. Dr. Franz Delgado Senior, another Venezuelan psychiatrist, agrees.

In Peru Chávez went all out to try to influence Peruvians to vote for Humala. It is highly indicative of his loss of prestige in Latin America that his support turned what seemed to be a clear victory for Humala only a few weeks ago into resounding defeat.

Humala tried desperately to put distance between Chávez and his campaign but it was too late. Peruvians perceived him as another potential stooge of the Chávez regime. After the Bolivian experience of the past three months, after the treatment Chávez is giving Morales, as a lowly, "Indian," assistant, Peruvians had second thoughts about Chávez. The Peruvian press has reacted indignantly against Hugo Chávez. He has probably become, in a matter of weeks, the most hated Latin American politician among Peruvians of all social strata. The virulence of the Peruvians against Chávez is only comparable to the virulence he has exhibited in Venezuela and abroad against his adversaries (really, enemies). Much of this reaction comes from the Peruvian poor, not from the rather small upper class.

The Peruvian backlash could well trigger a similar backlash against Chávez in other Latin American countries. The Peruvians, like the child of the tale, have been the first to shout that the "the King is naked." In Peru Chávez has looked vulnerable and has been unmasked as a vulgar bully. But in Bolivia something is also happening. The Bolivians are increasingly indignant at the patronizing attitude of Hugo Chávez towards Evo Morales. Morales is modest and soft-spoken and Chávez has taken his manners as a sign of submissiveness. He pats him in the back in public as if he were his father. Bolivians are especially furious at his calling Morales an "Indian" and speaking in his ear, as if giving him instructions. Morales himself might be getting fed up with this and could be starting to feel that being given money by Chávez might not be such a good idea.

In Brazil, of course, Lula already knows that Chavez is a political loose cannon and the Bolivian hydrocarbons "nationalization" has put Petrobras in a very awkward position as far as gas supply availability is concerned, not to say the danger of losing tangible investments already made in the country. The fact that Petrobras is no longer a "chemically pure" Brazilian state-owned oil company since it has foreign shareholders has complicated matters further, as Bolivian extremists influenced by Chávez, will object to Petrobras' permanence in Bolivia.

Kirchner, in Argentina, has probably been the man getting the most from Chávez while giving him the least in return. He has been sitting on the fence although Chavez has bought almost US$3 billion in Argentine bonds, a transaction that has made much easier for Kirchner to pay off the Argentinean debt to the IMF. In the coming selection of the member countries to the U.N. Security Council Argentina will probably vote for Chávez but this about all the Venezuelan strongman can expect from Kirchner. In Uruguay the government is negotiating openly with the U.S. a bilateral trade agreement and Chávez is becoming rapidly a bad word.

A Peruvian president not in Chávez's payroll will also make Bachelet's decisions a lot easier. A victory by Humala would have given Chile a sense of being "surrounded" and forced Bachelet to sound more leftist than she might really want to be. Even as things are today Chileans feel they are in the wrong geographical location and a victory by Humala would have reinforced this feeling of being surrounded by "primitive" governments.

The strong triumph of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia also works in favor of a more democratic, politically moderate environment in Latin America. When combined with Garcia's victory the strong Colombian democratic government could give wings to the Ecuadorian moderate political forces that will be going to elections in that country this year.

Although farther away from mid Latin America Mexico will also be feeling the ripples of the Peruvian outcome. Like Humala, Hugo Chávez has given Lopez Obrador the kiss of death and his opponents are gladly bringing this to the attention of the electorate.

The lurch to the left that seemed like a established and dramatic event in Latin America only a few months ago seems to be dissipating like a timid morning fog. If enough international presence can be obtained to monitor the Nicaraguan elections and the voting machines of Smartmatic are not allowed, Daniel Ortega will be defeated. In Nicaragua the Chávez curse will act again. He has given the sandinistas subsidized petroleum and, local newspapers claim, a brand new helicopter to use in their campaign.

And what about Venezuela? Presidential elections are slated in our country for December 3rd of this year. With the National Electoral Council totally in the hands of Chávez, with Smartmatic operating the machines and manual recount not being contemplated by the regime, with an Electoral Registry deeply contaminated, the chances for elections to take place are less than 50% at this point in time. The registry is a disaster. About 40,000 registered voters are said to be more than 100 years old. Thousands show the same number of identity cards. Millions lack addresses. The registry is a nest of statistical impossibilities and has been fattened with almost 3 million "new" electors in the last two years, an almost impossible situation. In this environment of distrust in the electoral authorities it is impossible for the opposition to go to elections and validate a fraud. Venezuela will become ripe for extreme political violence. Chávez will probably hang on to the presidency but he will not control the country.

All in all, the extreme left is losing Latin America as rapidly as it seemed to gain it during the last two years.

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