“A less favourable global scenario – as the main source of the Brazilian economic miracle – will create better conditions for those who want Lula to follow former Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, in his rapid rising and subsequent free fall into political disgrace”, written by Carlos Salas Lind.
While Lula was becoming the favourite presidential candidate in 2002, the international market was suffering a deep lack of confidence, which unleashed a capital leak and a sharp depreciation of the Brazilian currency “real”.
Few months were necessary for Lula – a radical syndicalist leader – to convince the financial and business world that his party – the Workers’ Party – would integrate the employees’ interests in order to deal with serious and extensive social problems for years accumulated. “The New Treaty” implied moving away from formulas that could trigger a bigger economic damage to a country of great inequalities, and which was also dependent on a regional and global current model of growth.
Lula – as well as the former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos – looked for alliances that outlined a governmental project towards the centre. Strictly following macro-economic policies – which support a model based on the stability of prices and fiscal balance – the return to investments and the recovery of the economic activity became possible.
The combination of orthodox economic policies and progressive social policies caught the attention of several civic sectors – which from different fronts – have valued the promotion of higher interests. Indeed, the merit lies in the fact that Lula created an economic reality that made possible the coexistence of a strong competitive economy and tight fiscal policies. Lula’s recipe reduced and froze his detractors at both ends of the political spectrum.
In Brazil as well as Chile, the increasing popularity of both presidents has been faced with constitutional restrictions which prevent re-election from happening (for third and second consecutive time, respectively). In both cases, Lula and Lagos concentrated their forces in extending their influences, and passing on the presidential position to someone who would surely continue the project facilitating their return.
Furthermore, emulating the Chilean context, Lula is preparing to ratify his leadership by handing over command of the most important country in the region to a woman. With a past marked by the resistance to one of the many dictatorships the continent suffered during late 20th century, Dilma Roussef echoes the circumstances that framed the eruption of Michelle Bachelet on to the Chilean political scene.
By visiting the voting places, Lula was perhaps subject to the same support that encouraged Ricardo Lagos to run again for presidency in the following elections. Lula never denied that wish– nor did Lagos – at the end of a “socialist” government which surpassed the people’s expectations. However, moving away from power and the strong questioning about his administration did not follow the line of the former Chilean president.
With only two months to go before handing over the command, there are some worrying signals for the Brazilian economy which could also predict a less favourable scenario for Lula’s electoral ambitions.
In the case of Brazil, the same external scenario – which made possible the employment and the implementation of policies with a strong social impact – is fading before the aggressive strategy – which is destined to reinforce competitiveness of exportation – and that is being been adopted by an increasing number of world economies.
The constant appreciation of the real (facing the devaluation policy started by other exporting powers), threatens the high development line the Brazilian economy has experimented during Lula’s second presidential period.
The point is that a less favourable global scenario – as the main source of the Brazilian economic miracle – will create better conditions for those who want Lula to follow Ricardo Lagos in his rapid rising and his subsequent free fall into political disgrace.
“He is anything but conservative, and to liken him to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi because they both own television stations – Mr. Piñera has promised to turn his over to a foundation – is also quite wrong”.
Chile is by no means the most significant of Latin American countries. But it has been a harbinger of things to come in the region, a sort of California of South America. Thus, the results of the Jan. 17 presidential election runoff made news around the world. For one, they signalled the end of the 20-year rule of the Concertacion, the centre-left coalition that has ruled Chile since 1990. It also marked the first time in half a century that Chile’s right has won a national election. With most of South America having turned left, many commentators have seen this, quite wrongly, as a sign of a regional swing to the right.
A standard headline reporting Sebastian Piñera’s election said “Conservative billionaire elected president of Chile.” The reference to his wealth is true enough. His self-made personal fortune is estimated between $1.5-billion and $2-billion (U.S.), putting him somewhere around 700th in Forbes’s world billionaires list and among Chile’s top five, and it has been growing by the day – as of last week, his stock in LAN Airlines, which he has promised to sell before taking office on March 11, had risen close to $400-million in value since June, 2009.
But he is anything but conservative, and to liken him to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi because they both own television stations – Mr. Piñera has promised to turn his over to a foundation – is also quite wrong.
Always at the top of his class, he is a Harvard economics PhD, a former international civil servant whose first job straight out of Harvard was at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (often described as Latin America’s think tank), a professor at his alma mater(the Catholic University of Chile), the man who brought credit cards to Chile in the late 1970s, and the pilot of his own helicopter.
Mr. Piñera is above all an overachiever. For the campaign, he bought a state-of-the-art printing machine, set it up in a former factory and produced all the campaign material he needed himself. His fine-grained polling, taken from a study done by the retail industry, allowed him to identify exactly what Chile’s aspirational, newly emerging middle-class sectors want – and then beat a coalition deemed unbeatable.
Born and raised in a Christian Democratic family, Mr. Piñera was an opponent of Augusto Pinochet, and voted against the general in the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to military rule. He then threw in his lot with a right-wing party, Renovacion Nacional, was elected to the Senate in 1989,
and has made several runs for the presidency. He had many run-ins with the Independent Democrat Union, the other right-wing party in his coalition (and keepers of the military regime’s flame) because he is a liberal on social issues. His campaign ads famously featured a gay couple, much to the chagrin
of conservatives. He has promised to strengthen the state and to keep Chile’s social safety network, much improved under Socialist President Michelle Bachelet.
His main promise has been to create one million jobs, 250,000 a year, by raising Chile’s growth rate to 6 per cent. At an average of 5 per cent a year, the latter has been the highest of any country outside Asia since 1990, but has slowed lately. He has also vowed to increase productivity, and to make Chile the first developed country in Latin America within a decade, a homage to the country’s 2010 bicentennial.
Chile has done very well in the past 20 years. It has a $15,000 per capita income in purchasing power parity terms, and an FDI-stock-to-GDP rate of 65 per cent, among the highest in the world. Canadian banks and mining companies have thrived there, in part because of its corporate tax rate of 17 per cent. Poverty was reduced from 38 per cent in 1990 to 13.7 per cent in 2006. Just a few days ago, it became the first South American country to join the OECD.
Most people still find it hard to believe that a coalition whose sitting president, Ms. Bachelet, enjoys 80-per-cent approval ratings has lost this election. I did not support or vote for Mr. Piñera, but I have the feeling that if he can restrain his business instincts to continue to increase his personal fortune, and applies his legendary energy (he is known as “the locomotive”) and managerial know-how to further unleash Chile’s booming economy, he and the country can do very well.
Written by Jorge Heine, fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His latest book (with Andrew F. Cooper) is Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics meets Globalization.
“In this year’s election, ‘dissenters’ are in a strong position to challenge the predictable dynamics that the Chilean party system has followed since the country returned to civilian rule” (written by Carlos Salas Lind).
In 2008, after the polls repeatedly showed the center-right opposition candidate gaining ground ahead of this year’s presidential election, very few political leaders in the Concertación (Chile’s center-left governing coalition), seemed interested in standing up to a venturous challenge.
Probably the fear of becoming the first candidate for the Concertación to suffer a defeat in the post Pinochet-era was making it hard to find a serious contender to further postpone the opposition’s (long) wait for alternation in power.
Among senior experts for the government, the dominant view appeared to be that if a right- leaning candidate was ahead in the polls, then a rather conservative center-left coalition candidate would more likely erase that lead.
Consequently, former Chilean President Eduardo Frei, a member of the Christian Democratic Party, emerged as the best card to neutralize the opposition candidate’s gains. The move looked to boost the morale of those who considered the task of winning a fifth term in office insurmountable.
Nevertheless, this optimistic assumption proved wrong, and an incipient revolt brewing among less prominent figures within the governing coalition finally broke out.
Mr. Enríquez-Ominami, the son of a hardliner of a socialist revolutionary movement in the 60’s, stepped forward to fill the void left by those who chose to play down the call for renewal. During the last three months, Mr. Ominami’s popularity has soared as high as 20% leaving many supporters of the Concertación in disarray(1).
Indeed, not only has Mr. Frei seen his base of electoral support shrinking to very threatening levels, but the center-right candidate’s chances of winning in the first round election have also faded away.
The fact that a young and inexperienced Member of Parliament can be in position to seriously alter the dynamics of Chile’s electoral competition reveals more about the state of the Chilean democratic process than the candidates themselves.
20 years after Pinochet was compelled to allow his opponents to lead the transition to democracy, civil engagement in the political process and faith in political institutions are in bad shape (2).
Call for renewal of the political elite has never been absent within the two political blocks that monopolize the country’s electoral competition. However, in this year’s election ‘dissenters’ seem to be in a strong position to challenge the predictable dynamics that the Chilean party system has followed since the country returned to civilian rule.
Even though Mr. Ominami also poses a threat to the center-right opposition candidate; Sebastian Piñera, it is Mr. Frei who faces the toughest test in the first round of the presidential elections. Conceding a humiliating defeat on December 13 can seriously jeopardize the existence of the broad party alliance that put a period to the continuation of Pinochet’s regime.
Despite the sagging poll numbers, Mr Frei’s competent strategists have not been able to reinvent his image. Frustration has also contributed to switching the campaign into negative attacks which are proving to be the wrong recipe to revitalize the plummeting confidence among the supporters of the Concertación.
In fact, it is turning out to be a colossal challenge to convince Chileans that a series of ‘unfulfilled’ social demands will surely be addressed in a fifth term of office.
This ‘doubtful’ promise certainly does not strengthen Mr. Frei’s ability to attract electors that are both tired of waiting and hungry for change.
(1) Some of the latest polls show Mr. Frei’s margin over Ominami within a range of just 2% to 5 %.
(2) One of the most peculiar inheritances of Pinochet’s regime is Chile’s binominal electoral system. Under the binominal system, parties or coalitions are only allowed to present a list with two candidates per district. Forcing parties to fuse in order to secure at least one of the two seats has resulted in limited political competition and the exclusion of minorities.
Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuba’s president, ending forty-nine years as Head of State. Fidel has been in rule since 1959 when he led the overthrow of Batista, the U.S.-backed dictatorship.
Due to his ailing health, the eighty-one-year-old Fidel recently wrote in a statement: “It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not a physical condition to offer”.
Fidel resigning came as no surprise. The likelihood of Fidel Castro returning after an extended health leave was close to none. However, questions have been buzzing in public debates and the media. What will happen after Fidel Castro (the longest ruling President in the world)? Some say: not much, as long as Fidel is alive he will continue to dictate Cuba from his sickbed. Others predict a reform process of the political system.
The questions linger on what we do know: Raúl Castro is ‘happening’ after Fidel Castro. Last week, the Cuban National Assembly selected Fidel’s younger brother, the seventy-six-year-old Rául, as the new president of Cuba. José Ramón Machado, an old veteran of Fidel’s Sierra, was elected vice president. Fidel remains chief of the Communist Party.
It seems that Fidel lingers on too. Raúl Castro, who has been running a caretaker government since Fidel fell ill in July 2006, said to the National Assembly that he would continue to consult his brother on political matters.
“I assume the responsibility that you have given to me with the conviction that the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution is only one person. Fidel is Fidel. We all know that Fidel cannot be replaced, and the people will continue their work when he is not here physically.”
Even though Fidel’s resignation is described as one of the most important political events during Cuba’s last 50 years, it does not mean a dramatic or swift change of the political system.
As long as Fidel is showing signs of life, he will “cast his shadow” on Cuba’s future. So it appears, coming from Rigberto Cerceller, leader of the NGO network “Cuba Democracia ¡Ya!” (Cuba Democracy Now).
Other observers state that Cuba, in many ways, is headed towards a process of change. Carlos Salas Lind, writing on Cuba in Chilean newspapers, predicts “reforms in Cuban tempo”. He says that, even though there will be no great and fast political shift, it is interesting to observe the changes that are already happening in Cuba. The new Cuban leadership is taking new forms, he says.
Carlos Salas Lind points out that Raúl Castro has encouraged debate in the Communist Party. It seems that the encouragement has been taken seriously. A couple of weeks ago, students from the University of Havana held a demonstration in which they, publicly, criticized the political conditions in Cuba. Lind says that this signifies new times.
“John McCain, Republican presidential frontrunner, has already criticized Barack Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with Raúl Castro.”
There is no doubt that Fidel Castro, as chief of the Communist Party, will continue to have a say in Cuban politics. Raúl Castro’s reform may not be very significant either. However, Raúl Castro has opened the door for some changes, says Lind.
Another thing to consider when it comes to Fidel’s resignation is the role of the U.S. and whether increased U.S. intervention will become a greater possibility. This is worrying for Cuba, which has, for more than a century, been subject to American politics of short-vision and panic.
In an American led war in 1898, U.S. raveled out the leftovers of the Spanish imperia and incorporated Cuba into the States. Cuba went from one military dictatorship to another with pauses for farce-like elections.
After General Batista’s military coup in 1952, Cuba was dealt by American mafias, which supplied Batista’s private account with a part of the profits. On New Year’s day 1959, Fidel Castro and a small guerilla army succeeded in casting Batista into exile.
The U.S. was terrified. The Marxist Trojan horse had taken over the back yard. When Castro started nationalizing and flirting with the Soviet, the U.S. started a war of invasions, plots and economic embargos on Cuba. This still continues.
And now? In the year of U.S. elections, American politicians may attempt to exceed each other in acting against ‘the backyard’. John McCain, Republican presidential frontrunner, has already criticized Barack Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with Raúl Castro.
“Raúl, in many ways, has a worse record than Fidel. And again, I think it’s naive to think that you can sit down and have unconditional talks with a person who is part of a government that has been a state sponsor of terrorism, not only in the hemisphere, but throughout the world.”
Nonetheless, it is a worrying thought that inner-Cuban political decisions are becoming part of the American elections, in which a right-wing is happy to again use Cuba as target.
Behind the scenes, some essential political questions are raised. What will happen after Fidel? And who should form the future of Cuba? Is Raúl Castro just another Fidel Castro?