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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2005, 16:03 GMT
South America's leftward sweep
The inauguration this week of the latest left-wing president to be elected in South America, Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay, has led analysts to talk of a "pink tide" sweeping the region.

The BBC's James Painter looks at some of the common elements of these new regimes, including what is being called a "polite distancing" from Washington.

Three-quarters of South America's 350 million people are now ruled by left-leaning presidents, all of whom have been elected in the last six years.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez
Mr Vasquez is expected to follow a centrist economic policy

Even though there are important differences, for example, between the fiery rhetoric of Venezuela's President Chavez and the cautious economic policies of President Lula of Brazil, there are some common themes emerging.

It should be no surprise, for example, that the first measure President Vasquez of Uruguay announced was the restoration of diplomatic links with Cuba.

Many of these new governments are indeed sympathetic to the left's revolutionary past, and a radical foreign policy can help to give them legitimacy amongst their supporters.

"Lula needs the credentials lent to him by both Chavez and Castro," Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told the BBC, "as they are both concerned with social justice and other leftist causes. Lula's party, the Workers Party, also has that kind of creed and belief."

But on the economic front they are inspired less by Fidel Castro's state control of the economy than by the social democrat or "third way" experiences in Europe and within their region.

President Lula
Lula looks to the left's revolutionary past for his credentials
A former President of Uruguay, Julio Maria Sanguinetti, says the Vasquez government will be no different.

"It will follow a centrist economic policy with a traditional leftist rhetoric," he said in a BBC interview.

"It will continue the same monetary policy and rigorous fiscal discipline. It will continue to service the debt, and it will continue to prioritise good relations with the USA."

Another common element of the "pink tide" is a clean break with what was known at the outset of the 1990s as the "Washington consensus", the mixture of open markets and privatisation pushed by the United States. That failed to narrow the gap between the rich and millions of poor.

Cautious economics

"There's a general miasma that governments are too beholden to the United States," says Larry Birns. "The new generation of leaders who resent the traditional US domination of the region are standing up to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. They are also getting closer to Europe than Washington would like."

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Hugo Chavez inspect honour guard in Beijing
Many are seeking friendly relations with China

But it is clear that - with the exception of Venezuela - Washington is not over-concerned with the "polite distancing" of much of Latin America from its free market recipes or its foreign policies, including towards Cuba.

This is because most governments are still pro-foreign investment, and fiscally cautious even though they want to do more for the poor. And even in the case of Venezuela, President Chavez's bark is different to his bite. So far he has made no moves to stop oil exports to the USA or stop foreign companies investing.

Some right-wing analysts say Washington should be more concerned about another common theme of this "pink tide".

Many of these new presidents are seeking to diversify their foreign relations, particularly with China but also with other emerging powers. President Chavez's next port of call after his trip to Uruguay is India.

No turmoil as S America goes left
02 Nov 04 |  Americas
Left-wing Uruguay leader welcomed
02 Nov 04 |  Americas
Uruguay elects left-wing leader
01 Nov 04 |  Americas
Uruguay vote rejects oil policy
08 Dec 03 |  Business
Country profile: Uruguay
28 Oct 04 |  Country profiles

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