The Great March of Bolivarian Revolutionary Progress is entering a rough patch. The two winds of leftist economic populism and aggressive environmentalism that have freshened the sails of Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have calmed, according to a report in the Financial Times:
In his zeal to kick out foreign companies, Mr Morales’ administration forgot that they are a main source of the capital and technical expertise every commodity-based economy needs to keep going.
Since 2006 oil production has fallen and gas output stagnated. Socialist ally Venezuela has been little help: local industry executives tell how an oil rig dispatched by state-owned oil company PDVSA was left to rust in a field. Corruption has flourished amid the chaos of a well-meaning but technically inexperienced government. The gains that Mr Morales established are threatened. He has started to change his ways.
Mr Morales returned last month from Beijing with Chinese-funded plans to build a railway network that will transport iron ore abroad from the huge Mutun field, being developed by India’s Jindal Steel. Neighbouring Brazil is also funding a new road through a national park – one of several highways that will cross Bolivia and link Brazil to Pacific markets. Foreign energy companies are being courted to invest in fresh exploration again. A president once dubbed “The World Hero of Mother Earth” is digging up the country.
This is alienating Mr Morales’ political base. Indigenous protesters have complained about environmental concerns; he calls them “fundamentalists”. When they march on the capital, he insinuates they are US spies. His image, both locally and abroad, has been dented.
As commodity prices fluctuate and the petro-subsidies from Chavez’s Venezuela drop off, the coalition of Reds and Greens that drove Andean politics for the past decade begins to unravel. Like the dozens of populist caudillos of Latin America’s past, the present batch don’t know what needs to be done to get their economies on track, and the corrupt and personalistic political machines they build around them tend to lose capacity over time.
These guys like to think they are the cure for the Latin curse of underperforming economies, corrupt public and corporate sectors, social and economic polarization, and general impotence and backwardness. Actually, they are part of the disease process — a symptom not a fix. Billing themselves as the ‘socialists of the twenty first century’ and claiming a connection with the revolutionary tradition going back to Marx and beyond, the Bolivarean movements never developed a serious intellectual or political program. The green and red rhetoric was less an intellectual and political program than a cloud of appealing verbiage intended to camouflage the lack of serious policy thought at the core of these movements.
Fortunately the rise of new political forces in countries like Chile and Brazil offers models for the Andean republics less remote than Europe and more sympathetic than the United States. Little by little Latin America is beginning to emerge from underdevelopment and political deadlock; there will yet, we can hope, come a time when the last vain caudillo pulls the last cheap populist stunt and all the South American republics assume their proper place among the world’s peaceful and prosperous democratic states.