Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bolivia Shifting Left

If current polls hold true, Bolivia's leftist candidate Evo Morales will take the majority of votes in today's presidential elections. That would make Morales, an avid supporter of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the first Indian president of the land-locked nation. (CNN: American 'nightmare' favored in Bolivia vote). Pro-American candidate Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga is currently in second place in the polling, holding 29% to Morales' 34%.

Should Morales be elected, Bolivia would join a growing block of South American nations following the belligerent ideals of Chavez. Brazil and Argentina have already swung into the Chavez camp, taking a united stance against capitalistic ideals presented in the recently concluded FTAA talks. Chavez, a socialist that borders on communistic ideals, has allied himself with Cuba and Iran. His anti-American and anti-Mexican rhetoric has destabilized northern South American and contributed to the rise in oil prices.

Of increasing concern to the US is the growing coalition of oil producers in South America that have a distinctly anti-American attitude. Bolivia is the second largest producer of oil in South America, and Morales pledges to nationalize oil production should he be elected. Given the reverence other South American presidents appear to have towards Chavez, this election would give Venezuela a disproportionate amount of power in controlling oil flow and oil prices.

What the election means for Bolivia itself is a major wild card. There continues to be growing discontent between the underprivileged Indian population and the ruling class descended primarily from western European nations. Election of an Indian president may well signal a power shift, not unlike that experienced in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The fear is that the social backlash in Bolivia could rival what was seen in those two African nations, plunging Bolivia into a social civil war; something that would place additional constraints on oil prices throughout the western hemisphere.

There's no easy solution to the South American problem. US efforts to bolster the economies of developing nations south of the equator have been universally rebuffed. Almost to a nation in South America, there is a distinct division between the ruling class and the poverty stricken lower class that is mostly unemployed and living in conditions that would shock most Americans. Corrupt governments continue to play a major role in keeping the general population downtrodden, and a shift to the left by followers of Chavez are doing nothing to improve the economic plight of the people.

Chavez has gone to great lengths to stir up anti-American rhetoric in Venezuela, and has attempted to paint the threat of impending US invasion. To date, the US has largely ignored his ramblings, however it's not clear for how much longer we will have that luxury. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the instability being generated by Venezuela. While I certainly don't advocate overt military action in Venezuela, a covert effort to foster regime change from within would certainly be in order. The cancer that is Chavez is beginning to spread throughout that region. It seems clear that some form of surgery will be required.

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