- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Recent elections in Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay have tilted the already left-leaning region more decisively in that direction.

Still, President Bush will have to differentiate between those leftists governments and fashion policy accordingly. There is wide political berth between, say, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Mr. Bush will continue to be particularly challenged by Mr. Chavez, who tends to outwardly navigate within the technical parameters of Venezuela’s constitution, but has often violated the spirit of the law and democratic traditions.

There is much at stake for the United States in the region, including abundant energy resources, trading opportunities and concerns over terrorism, immigration, narcotics trafficking and global economic stability. Mr. Bush will have to carefully weigh securing U.S. interests, while also defending America’s democratic values.

In Venezuela’s Sunday regional elections, where international monitors did not observe the vote, Mr. Chavez effectively won decisively, with his allies winning 21 out of 23 governorships. The vote is expected to further embolden Mr. Chavez and may signal the death knell for Venezuela’s traditional opposition parties.

In Uruguay, Tabare Vazquez, who will preside over an unruly assortment of leftist parties, won Sunday’s presidential election with more than 50 percent of the vote, breaking the 170-year reign of the two traditional political parties. Mr. Vazquez is seen as a wild card. Although he has tapped for economy minister the widely respected Danilo Astori, the president will have some far-left contingents in his coalition to contend with, including former guerilla leaders. Mr. Vazquez, of the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front, was able to capitalize on Uruguay’s 11 percent economic slide in 2002, caused largely by the economic troubles of neighboring Argentina.

In Chile, President Ricardo Lagos’ center-left coalition was the victor in municipal elections, with his coalition winning just under 45 percent of the votes for mayors and 48 percent of town councilors. In Brazil, though, the results of Sunday’s municipal run off elections were mixed. Mr. da Silva’s Worker’s Party on Sunday won in nine smaller state capitals and 380 other cities, but lost in its former stronghold of Porto Alegre and in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

Mr. Bush should leverage the clout of moderate leftist presidents, like Messrs. da Silva and Lagos, to temper the region’s political firebrands, such as Mr. Chavez. He should also keep a close eye on the region’s energy policies, and extol the virtues of investment and sustainability. With the exception of Mr. Chavez, the region appears to be tilting, but not yet lurching, to the left.

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