Savvy Marketing or Debating the Issues: Recent Elections in Latin America by Sujatha Fernandes January 11, 2007
As several more leftist leaders were elected or re-elected during recent elections in Latin America, what kinds of changes have there been in their campaigns? On December 3, radical leftist president Hugo Chávez was reelected in Venezuela with 62 percent of the vote for another six-year term. Both Chávez and opposition candidate Manuel Rosales ran high profile campaigns, with publicized events, inaugurations, and public appearances. But the recent elections also reflected a shift that is taking place across Latin America, from national elections as a savvy marketing event to a forum where real issues can be brought up. Chávez continued to raise the need for regional integration and redistribution as crucial pillars of the Bolivarian project. This use of elections as a forum to put forth an alternative development model to neoliberalism has also been seen in the case of Ecuador, with the election of leftist candidate Rafael Correa.
Over the last few decades, neoliberal policies of privatization, deregulation, and dismantling of the welfare state have been hegemonic in Latin America. The mid-1980s debt crisis and subsequent structural adjustment reforms across Latin America weakened traditional political parties and labor unions. During the 1990s, this void was filled by a new breed of neo-populist politicians such as Bolivia’s Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (“Goni”), Venezuela’s Carlos Andrés Pérez, and Argentina’s Carlos Menem, who carried out free-market policies and built ties to Washington. Some of these leaders such as Pérez and Menem hailed from former union-based populist parties such as Democratic Action (Acción Democratica, AD) and the Peronist Party.
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