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Many political analysts believe that Catholic Latin America is veering toward radical socialism.
BY ALEJANDRO BERMÚDEZLATIN AMERICA CORRESPONDENT
LIMA, Peru — Many political analysts
and economists believe that Catholic Latin America has taken a dramatic detour
toward radical socialism, but that would be an incorrect assumption, say
Critics point to the reelection of
anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who shadowed President Bush’s
Latin American tour this month — and the return to power of former Sandinista
leader Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and election of Chavez’ friend Rafael Correa
Pope Benedict XVI will make his
first papal visit to the region in May when he visits Brazil. Gone is the
heyday of Latin American liberation theology, which he criticized as prefect of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But the legacy of that faulty
theology lives on.
Although several regional experts
acknowledge that Latin America has become more inclined towards some aspects of
the socialist agenda, they disagree that that agenda is raging through the
“There is no doubt about the
disenchantment of many Latin Americans with free-market and free-trade zones,
and there is certainly a return to support a greater role of the state,” said
Javier Pinto, a Peruvian economic analyst. “And that desire has been
capitalized by left-wing politicians in the recent elections.”
For example, Correa was elected in
Ecuador by calling the country’s $11 billion foreign debt “illegitimate,” and
by promising a greater role of the government in fighting poverty.
Correa’s Jan. 15 inauguration was a
“who’s who” of Latin American socialism, an event with a guest list that
included Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A few weeks earlier during the
swearing-in ceremony of his new cabinet, Venezuela’s Chavez announced a series
of new measures for moving ahead in establishing “a 21st century socialism” in
Among these new measures are the
convocation of a new constitutional assembly and the re-nationalization of key
However, political analysts stress
the new generation of leaders do not generally share Chavez’ pro-Cuban
ideological viewpoint or his anti-American rhetoric.
“Chavez, more than a left-wing
leader, is a deranged megalomaniac, whose ego soars proportionally to the oil
price,” said Andrés Oppenheimer, the top Latin American analyst for The
The New Leaders
Bolivia’s Evo Morales has announced
openly anti-free market policies and established close ties with Chavez.
But according to Pinto, “it would be
a mistake” to think that Morales is evidence of a pronounced socialist lurch in
“First, the U.S. commands
significant support in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina,”
Pinto said. “Second, the new left-wing leaders are all animals of very
In Ecuador, Catholic leaders who
spoke to the Register on condition of anonymity said they feel “fairly
comfortable” with their new president, Correa.
“In his youth, he was very close to
Catholic priests heavily influenced by the theology of liberation and he
thought of becoming a priest himself,” one of the sources explained.
“He is, indeed, a man of left-wing
tendencies, but in all of the moral and ethical issues from abortion to
contraception, his heart is in the right place.”
And according to Sonia María Crespo,
editor of the influential Ecuadorean magazine Vive,
the 43-year-old Correa won power in Ecuador not as a socialist but rather “as a
charismatic outsider who pledged to lead a ‘citizens’ revolution’ against a
political establishment widely seen as resistant to reform.”
In Nicaragua, the election of Daniel
Ortega, the former anti-American leader of the communist-oriented Sandinista
revolution of the 1980s, should spark “no concerns whatsoever,” said Luis
Humberto Guzmán, ex-president of the Nicaraguan National Assembly and a
“The new Ortega has very little if
anything to do with the young revolutionary. His inauguration speech, as well
as his first steps [in government], are eloquently moderate: no confrontation
with private property, and a clear desire to tackle poverty and fight
corruption,” Guzmán said.
During the presidential campaign,
Ortega’s party was the only one that published a statement supporting the
elimination of all types of legal abortions.
Local and regional feminists are
especially fearful of Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, a former revolutionary
leader who recently “reverted” to Catholicism and has become a devout mother
and a staunch pro-life figure.
In Uruguay, President Tabaré Vásquez
has a similar stance to Ortega’s current position in the political spectrum.
“He is a strong pro-life left-wing
leader,” Pinto said about Vásquez. “I would say that, by U.S. standards, he
would be a Tammany Hall type of Democrat: pro-life, pro-labor union and in
favor of a significant involvement of the government in social issues.”
is based in Lima, Peru.