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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 19:11 GMT
No turmoil as S America goes left
By James Painter
BBC Latin America analyst

Tabare Vazquez
Left-winger Tabare Vazquez won almost 51% of Uruguay's vote
The victory of the socialist doctor, Tabare Vazquez, in Sunday's elections in Uruguay has prompted analysts and left-wing presidents to talk of a "new South America".

They point out that left-leaning leaders run the big three economies of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, and now predominate in most of the rest of the region.

The only exception is President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, who remains adamantly pro-Washington and free market policies.

What is more, both President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva of Brazil did well in recent local elections.

Pro-government candidates won in 20 of Venezuela's 22 states and in Brazil, Lula's Workers Party won the most number of votes nationwide and doubled the number of local councils it won in 2000 -even though it lost Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre.

Fiery rhetoric

But any talk of a major upheaval in South American politics should be taken with caution.

First, there are major differences between the new wave of leaders.

Chavez supporters in the streets of Caracas
Venezuela's people chose Chavez over the traditional parties

Mr Chavez's fiery, nationalist rhetoric and free-spending policies are miles apart from Lula's cautious fiscal policies and economic orthodoxy.

Also, Mr Vazquez is probably going to be more like Lula than President Nestor Kirchner of neighbouring Argentina.

Although Mr Vazquez was vague about what his government would do on the economic front, most analysts agree that it is unlikely that Uruguay will follow the path of Mr Kirchner and default on any of its foreign debt.

Mr Vazquez's new Economy Minister, Danilo Astori, has already said he will be cautious as Uruguay's economy is very vulnerable to external shocks.

Secondly, there are often country-specific reasons why certain candidates do well.

Moderate change

In Uruguay, one of the reasons Mr Vazquez won easily was popular disenchantment with the two traditional parties, the Colorados and the Blancos, who have dominated Uruguayan politics for decades.

Rejection of traditional parties was a major factor in the triumph of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador, but not so important in Lula's victory in 2002.

Thirdly, most of the left-leaning leaders in South America do not advocate profound social or economic changes.

A homeless Uruguayan gives a victory sign on polling day
Poor Uruguayans wanted to change their country's political direction

Gone are the days of sweeping nationalisation, protectionism or land reforms.

Most work within the free market model, offering only moderate changes, with more emphasis on social spending and regional trade initiatives.

Even President Chavez in Venezuela has never really threatened the interests of the major oil companies investing in his country.

What the winners of recent elections in Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador do have in common is a clear rejection of American-supported free-market policies often backed by incumbent governments.

It is not surprising that such candidates should do well. Most economists agree that such policies may bring stability but have not alleviated poverty or created many jobs.

And that is what concerns most Latin Americans.

In a recent survey carried out by the Chilean organisation, Latinobarometro, right across the region unemployment and poverty worried most Latin Americans more than political problems like terrorism.

And 71% of respondents thought that their countries were "governed for the benefit of a few powerful interests" rather than for "the good of the people".

See the carnival as Vazquez supporters celebrate

Ask Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe
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Ecuador's economic hopes
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Profile: Hugo Chavez
16 Mar 04 |  Americas

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