Saturday, December 5, 2015
Socialism in Latin America has run its course for now and left behind the devastation that comes with government control.
A rally takes place to protest against the Brazilian government in Sao Paulo. View Enlarged Image
Red Tide: It's easy to get lost in the weeds of Brazil's, Venezuela's, or other Latin countries' internal political strife. But there's a broad, unmistakable trend out there: The region's socialist rule is collapsing as the cash runs out.
That's quite a change, given that in 2011, President Obama made Brazil the first stop on his first trip to Latin America, posing for glamorous pictures and hailing the country and its president, Dilma Rousseff, as the wave of the future.
He came with Export-Import bank credits and a plea for America to become Brazil's "best customer" in its nascent oil industry.
Today, the country is in shambles, a crony-looted, crime-infested, corruption-plagued mess that resembles its fellow BRIC, Boris Yeltsin's gangster-plagued Russia in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
The oil industry that Obama so wanted America to be part of is embroiled in a $20 billion graft scandal. The vast welfare programs that the World Bank hailed as "poverty alleviation" have depleted the public coffers and left the poor worse off than ever.
And the economy is down, way down, forecast to contract 3.2% this year, its worst performance since 1990. A prominent investment bank refuses to call it a recession, saying instead it's a depression.
So it's no surprise that even without an election, Brazil's government is tottering. All it took was opposition leader Eduardo Cunha — targeted himself by corruption allegations in the lower house of Congress — to launch impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. They are based on credible charges of campaign finance violations and fiscal mismanagement.
Latin American governments these days are going down like dominoes.
In Argentina's election last month, pro-free-market politician Mauricio Macri unexpectedly took the presidency from the long-ruling socialist Peronists. He is the brightest star in this collection of fireworks.
Macri's given Latin America's battered democratic and free-market movements — including even Cuba's — courage to push forward by showing that even against the worst odds, it can be done.
Guatemala is another sizzling light. Its corrupt President Otto Perez Molina was thrown out of power by democratic means and actually jailed for corruption. Meanwhile an outsider, Jimmy Morales, with no ties to the corrupt political networks and who sold himself to voters with free-market ideas, was elected in a peaceful election in September. He'll take office in January.
Even in Colombia, Bogota's municipal politics are notable — Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla awash in corruption was thrown out and replaced by a pro-market liberal last summer.
Don't think the remaining socialist governments aren't taking notice.
Nicaragua and Ecuador last week took steps to shut their borders to unchecked waves of Cuban migrants, betraying their socialist mentor Cuba because the migrants are potentially destabilizing.
Ecuador is being shaken by huge waves of protests now, as President Rafael Correa attempts to alter the constitution to make himself president for life.
The biggest test is in Venezuela.
National Assembly elections are likely to put the entire legislature in opposition hands for the first time since 1998 — with potential power to throw out current Chavista communist President Nicolas Maduro. The socialists there have a record of electoral fraud, but as we go to press, it appears that the opposition's electoral tide might be too powerful to reverse.
Venezuela's socialist leaders have turned the economy there into a disaster area, a horror show of shortages, decay, crime, inflation and corruption.
A poll by Bank of America and Datanalisis may hold the key to the shift: It turns out that 57% of Venezuelans as of October said they would prefer to have market prices for goods rather than state-dictated low prices. Why? Because they want a guaranteed supply of goods and services.
Such thinking is a death knell for the siren songs of socialism. It signals that the public finally gets what socialism is all about — state control. Showing common sense, and before it's too late, they are kicking it out.
What Maggie Thatcher once said is true of Latin America today: "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
It's an idea that can only spread.