Sunday, March 15, 2009
Another Domino Falls...
First, there was Hugo Chavez - who we all know and loathe - but the thing that a lot of people don't pick up on is that "Chavismo" is not limited to Venezuela. Instead, Chavez launched a domino effect that has reverberated around Latin America. Radical Leftist/Socialist presidents have suddenly shot to power all over Latin America, dramatically re-shaping the region's political culture and making life very difficult for the U.S. Some have become moderate, accepted left-wing leaders, like Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez. However, many of them have lived up to their radical reputations. This brand of leader, who I would call the "Chavitos" (little Chavezs) have become one of the scariest trends in world politics. They include Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, and - most importantly- Bolivia's Evo Morales (who actually scares me MORE than Chavez himself).
Today, another country has fallen, and the latest Leftist to come to power could be the most important yet - because he is unlike the others and, in my mind, could represent the first incarnation of the second generation of Chavitos. The country is El Salvador in Central America- and the man is former TV journalist Mauricio Funes. On one hand, I'm surprised that it took Salvadoreans so long to lurch leftward, as Mr. Funes' party is one of the most established radical movements in Latin America. While it operates as a political party today, the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) got its start as a communist guerrilla army and fought a bloody civil war in 1980s and early 90s. However, since going "mainstream", the FMLN has failed to gain the presidency - but that was before they found Mauricio Funes, who was unlike anyone they had put up before.
Until now, the FMLN has run former guerrillas for president, but apparently Salvadoreans were not in the mood to elect bloodied rebel commanders to lead their country - this has allowed the conservative ARENA Party to hold the presidency in a vice-grip since 1989. Funes, however, is not only the first FMLN who did not fight in the war, but seemingly bears no resemblance to the grizzled fighters who founded his party. With his clean-shaven look and his chic modern spectacles, he clearly doesn't come from the bloody jungle battlefields of the 80s. Instead, he is a modern communicator who honed his skills as a TV presenter on "CNN en Espanol". This is not just a change of pace for the FMLN, but for the entire Latin American left, as most of the "Chavitos" got their start as proletarian labor union bosses.
So, we've established that Funes is a different kind of Lefty, but why is that so darn important? Well, it's because he could be a weathervane for the entire region - telling the world how the Chavez movement will age. It seems now that he could easily become a moderate leftist like Lula da Silva in Brazil. If that is the case, he will fit nicely into the international community and won't be terribly noteworthy in the grand scheme of things. However, considering that he did come out of the very radical FMLN, he could instead be the first example of a new Leftist generation of of leaders - "Chavito 2.0" if you will. In other words, his policies could be every bit as radical as Crazy Hugo, but more threatening because of their sleek, non-militant, 21st century look. Everybody KNEW that the first generation of Chavitos were stark raving loons, they might as well have "nut job" tattooed across their foreheads. But if the Funes example holds, that will no longer be the case, and more countries will become vulnerable. Conservative holdouts like Peru and Colombia could fall for the siren-song of the new left, and the takeover of Latin America will become complete.
Which way President Funes will go is anybody's guess. We can pray that he turns out as a moderate - but we need to watch him closely to ensure that he doesn't morph into something far more sinister.