One of the better decisions of the U.S. government recently, has been to
keep a low profile with regard to the self-proclaimed "radical" governments in
Nicaragua and Venezuela. They're now both collapsing under the weight of their
inability to govern, particularly absent a foreign "patron" able to pump in
money and other subsidies.
Nicaragua, the communist Sandanista party, which made the mistake of holding
free elections in 1980s, and lost power, are back. The Sandanistas back then
were unable to deliver on any of their grandiose promises, and angered the
population with their efforts to control so many aspects of peoples lives. The
Sandanistas confirmed many suspicions when they looted the government on their
way out. The winners of that election looked the other way, and got on with
trying to solve the nations social and economic problems. They failed, and in
2006, the Sandanistas got voted in. As many expected, the Sandanistas had not
learned much from their earlier errors, or the difficulties their successors
had suffered. Returning to lots of socialist rhetoric, and no practical
solutions, they quickly lost their electoral mandate. But the Sandanistas did
learn one lesson from their past failures; the importance of fixing elections.
They are now under increasing pressure, from their growing number of opponents,
for trying to retain power by fixing local elections.
The basic problem
in Nicaragua, as well of most of Latin America, is the politics of extremes. On
the left there are radicals who seek a socialist paradise, usually run by a
socialist dictatorship. This never works. On the other extreme there is the
traditional plutocracy (rule by the few wealthy families that dominate the
economies of most countries in the region.) If the plutocrats can buy voters,
they will fall back on a military dictator. This doesn't work either, so the
region has two centuries of unhappy, and often violent, politics.
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela thought he had a solution, given
the oil wealth in the country. In the last century, the vast oil deposits have
created some peace, and the growth of a larger middle class. But most
Venezuelans remained poor, because the plutocrats would not follow the example
of North America. That is, push education and make it easy for entrepreneurs to
create wealth, and jobs. In Latin America, the wealthy are more intent on
preserving their wealth, and power, than in growing it or sharing it. Chavez
got himself elected, and re-elected, since 1998. But Chavez pursued the
socialist dictatorship model, and it did what it has always done, failed. The
oil wealth only went so far in keeping the socialist dreams alive. Now that the
price of oil is plunging, the wasted and ineffective spending by Chavez is
creating a growing hostility towards Chavez and his ideas.
increasing number of Latin American business people, politicians and academics
are pushing for the North American model. This is slowly changing popular ideas
about what kind of society will solve the regions problems. The old plutocracy
has long been discredited, but the rich families are still there, and still
very powerful. The socialist model was popular for over half a century, but
even the slow learners are beginning to realize that this doesn't work. Now, in
countries like Brazil and Chile, new models based on education and
entrepreneurial efforts are being tried, and succeeding. But the old ideas will
linger for a long time, and so will their adverse effects.