New Faces, New Policies in Region

Politics is swirling everywhere. Such are the ways of democracies, especially when oppositions come alive and defeat or threaten incumbents. On Jan. 17, Chileans elected Sebastián Piñera their president, the first time in 52 years that a conservative won at the polls. It’s tempting to cast his victory as Right versus Left, bad omen for the Latin American Left. Rather, his election represents democracy’s normal course: sooner or later incumbent parties lose. At home, Piñera is unlikely to stray far from Michelle Bachelet’s social policies. Abroad, he’ll veer in a different direction. Bolivia’s demand for sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean won’t get his consideration. Neither will he have much forbearance for Hugo Chávez and his allies. Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe finally has a friend in South America. Let’s hope he has the good sense of bypassing reelection. Piñera has a clear mandate to tweak. Center-right and center-left are democracy’s zones of comfort. He does, however, have to watch the Alliance for Change’s right wing, many of whom are unreconstructed Pinochetistas. The president-elect has been talking up accords and a politically diverse cabinet, which has raised Pinochetistas’ eyebrows. No matter, without a parliamentary majority, the Alliance has to reach out. After two decades in power, the center-left Concertación is now the opposition. The Christian Democrats could part ways, particularly if Piñera — a fellow traveler — courts them as he’s already doing. Chile’s electoral rules, however, bolster a two-alliance system. More important, the Concertación should cast a wary eye to El Salvador’s ARENA, which has divided, and the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes who has, so far, kept the die-hard Left at bay. Crisis comes to a close Wednesday, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo assumed the presidency of Honduras. After his inauguration, Lobo, the Dominican Republic’s Leonel Fernández and Guatemala’s Alvaro Colom went to the Brazilian embassy to escort former President Manuel Zelaya to the airport. He traveled to the Dominican Republic in Fernández’s plane. And so the Honduras crisis that started with Zelaya’s power grab and deepened with the civilian coup on June 28 came to a close. Fortunately, the Honduran congress issued an amnesty for all parties. Last November, Lobo won in a landslide (56 percent versus 38 percent for his Liberal rival) with the highest number of votes cast (2.3 million) in Honduran history. Though electoral turnout was about the same as in 2005 (50 percent), Lobo has a resounding mandate while Zelaya did not (he won 50 percent versus Lobo’s 46 percent in 2005). The United States, Canada, several European countries and some Latin American governments sent representatives to Lobo’s inauguration. Slowly the world will come to terms with the legitimacy of his election. Now all he has to do is to govern so that Honduras’ long-standing crises — poverty, discrimination, lack of transparency, sparse opportunities for most citizens, overall insecurity — don’t explode in his face. The Bolivarian revolution is in trouble. As in 2007, RCTV is the reason. Then, Chávez relegated it to cable, now he has banished it altogether. Both times students took to the streets. Now, however, Chávez is also facing trouble from within: The resignation of three ministers, a grievously mismanaged economy and an evermore extended web of official corruption. No wonder two-thirds of his fellow citizens want him to leave office no later than 2012. Presidency as a birthright Like Fidel Castro, Chávez sees the presidency as his birthright. He’s threatening demonstrators with unflinching repression. Two have already lost their lives, scores are wounded. The opposition is feeling good about December’s legislative elections. Should it appear that he’d lose them or that opponents would have a strong minority, Chávez is capable of anything. Politics is a give-and-take affair, only Comandante Hugo does all the taking. What to say about Haiti? For Miamians, Haitians are our neighbors, friends and colleagues, so the tragedy hits close to home. When I saw images of collapsed government buildings, including the presidential palace and parliament, I said to myself: Haiti went from a failed state to no state. Haitian elites have one last chance to get it right. With international help, they just might. But then again look at Afghanistan’s deaf-as-a-post Hamid Karzai. In 2010, Brazil, Costa Rica and Colombia hold presidential elections plus there is a slew of legislative elections. Stay tuned!

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