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Latin America Assessing Impact of da Silva Election in Brazil - 2002-10-29


The election of a leftwing president in Brazil, Latin America's largest country, is likely to have repercussions throughout the region, including energizing the Latin American left. However, President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva owes his victory to moving himself and his leftist Workers' Party (P.T.) toward the political center.

When the bearded and burly former union leader is inaugurated president on January 1, Mr. da Silva will become Brazil's first leftwing president in almost 40 years.

The last time a leftist governed Brazil was in the early 1960's, when Joao Goulart assumed the presidency following the sudden resignation of the sitting president. Mr. Goulart was later overthrown in 1964 by the military, which ruled the country for the next 21 years.

So the election of Mr. da Silva, known to all as Lula, marks a historic turn for Brazil, the world's ninth largest economy. Lula's victory was hailed by leftwing parties in Latin America, and by the hemisphere's two leftist leaders, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Castro has called Mr. da Silva his friend, while Mr Chavez said his victory will create what the Venezuelan leader called an axis of good in the hemisphere, the axis of the people and of the future. The comments by the Venezuelan President were aimed at his conservative critics at home and abroad who have warned that a President Da Silva would join Mr. Castro and Mr. Chavez in a so-called "axis of evil."

But former Brazilian foreign minister, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, dismisses the notion of a leftist axis emerging in Latin America. Mr. Lampreia, who spoke to VOA before Sunday's vote, does believe Mr. da Silva's victory is a sign of dissatisfaction with the free-market economic model known as the Washington consensus.

"I think it would be a signal that Latin America, and South America particularly, has found itself disenchanted with liberal economic policies," he said. "The Washington consensus has been a disappointment, and instead of the roses that we've been promised, we got thorns. And I think there's a substantial degree of willingness to try other ways. Where that will lead, I don't know, that's another question."

Mr. da Silva, who is 57, won on promises of change that would revive economic growth and alleviate Brazil's widespread poverty. Even though he abandoned his socialist rhetoric of the past, Mr. da Silva criticized the economic record of outgoing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had adopted the reforms advocated by the Washington Consensus.

In this respect, Mr. da Silva's victory has heartened Latin American leftists and perhaps provided ammunition for other leftwing candidates in the region aspiring to become president. In Ecuador, for example, former army colonel and leftist nationalist Lucio Gutierrez faces businessman Alvaro Noboa in a runoff election next month. Mr. Gutierrez who has expressed admiration for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is backed by leftist parties and indigenous groups.

Venezuelan congresswoman Desire Santos Amaral, who belongs to President Chavez' political party, says the election of Mr. da Silva opens up new perspectives for Latin America.

There's a new direction for Latin America, she says, that could lead to more unity so that our voices will be stronger and will be heard by nations trying to impose their will on the region. Ms Santos went on to say she does not think Mr. da Silva will follow the same policies as President Chavez.

But while the Latin American left has been energized by Mr. da Silva's victory, some analysts point out that the ex-union leader could not have won the Presidency advocating socialism.

"I would be a little hesitant in [adopting] an analysis which says that the electorate in Latin America as a whole is rejecting the kind of neo-liberal policies, and they're making a sharp turn to the left," said Christopher Garman, a political analyst at the Sao Paulo consulting firm, Tendencias. "I think Brazilian voters remain fairly conservative, they remain very risk adverse and I would say one of the main lessons of this election is not necessarily that the voters are moving more to the left, but that leftist parties, primarily the P.T., learned a lesson that in order to win elections you have to toe a very conservative campaign speech and discourse."

This is what Mr. da Silva did, and even after his election Sunday, promised to maintain fiscal stability and honor Brazil's international commitments to repay its debt. At the same time, Mr. da Silva made clear he has not abandoned his socialist ideals when he also pledged to make combatting hunger and poverty his priority. If he succeeds in all that he's promised, Mr. da Silva could provide a new example for the left in Latin America to follow.

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