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Latin America: Looking Ahead To 2006

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Most Americans will have their eyes on Iraq in 2006, and little else on the foreign news scene will interest them. And while Iraq will continue to be awash in factional fighting and religious feuds (with a decidedly Islamic tilt to their new government next year), I am interested in another region of the world and what it holds for next year and beyond.

Latin America is often not seen as the big-league player in international affairs, but after Evo Morales won a stunning presidential victory this month in Bolivia, the United States has been served with a notice that “our voices will be heard.” For many weeks prior to the election Morales was expected to win, but the huge margin of victory was the powerful message that made Washington cringe. Following his victory, the State Department briefing was downright awkward and the tortured language from the Bush administration was poorly scripted.

Morales is the first president of indigenous descent to win an election, and this is a great victory for those who have been disenfranchised for far too long in Bolivia. His political savvy is well noted as he has helped bring down less reform-minded leaders of that land.

I do take extreme exception to his views on coca growing and the impact it has on the rest of the world. This is one area where the honey and vinegar test will need to be applied with skill, and therefore one has to have doubts about our handling of this matter. But Morales’ desire to insure fairness for his people in regards to the massive amounts of natural gas under Bolivia is admirable. When he teams up with Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez, (the one Pat Robertson wanted to kill), one can begin to understand why this region is one to watch in 2006. Chavez is also a leader who has tapped into the undercurrents of his country and is a masterful politician.

The bottom line for all of Latin America is how their economies grow. Liberal democracies flourish during times of growth but more populist sentiments are reflected in elections when stagnation and depressed incomes are the norm. It is vital that we help insure, through trade policies and international loans, a more equitable playing field for the citizens of this region of the world.

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