- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela

The new year offers the Latin American left new chances to test its rising political strength.

Evo Morales’ victory in the Bolivian presidential vote at the close of 2005 added one more leader to a growing list who criticize what they consider imperialist U.S. policies and promise more spending to help the poor.

In Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the populist former mayor of the capital, leads opinion polls while campaigning for the July vote on the slogan “For the good of all, first the poor.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, enjoys solid support and is favored to win another six-year term in December to deepen his socialist revolution.

Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to seek a second term in October, though polls suggest the former labor leader’s popularity has suffered from a corruption scandal in his administration. Sao Paulo’s centrist mayor, Jose Serra, is expected to be a tough challenger.

In Colombia, center-right President Alvaro Uribe offers a counter to the leftist trend. He commands strong support for his hard-line stand against leftist rebels and seems poised to win re-election in May.

Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, will attempt a comeback in November. His chances could improve after infighting in President Enrique Bolanos’ camp. Mr. Ortega, who left the presidency in 1990, has lost twice since.

Presidential contenders in Peru include nationalist Ollanta Humala and conservative Lourdes Flores. Supporters of former President Alberto Fujimori are trying to legalize his candidacy for the April ballot, even though he is jailed in Chile fighting extradition on human rights and corruption charges.

Costa Rica and Ecuador also will choose leaders.

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