Fading Neoliberalism

Progressive presidential candidates who espouse activist government intervention in economic affairs are spearheading an electoral revolution in Latin American politics. The emerging profile of committed socialists and social democrats who favor aggressive government action to reinvigorate investment and economic growth, slash unemployment, and correct longstanding inequities in distribution of national wealth seems in some ways a throwback to the Latin American leadership class of the 1960s and 1970s, before the regional debt crisis of the early 1980s unleashed a counterrevolution of deregulation, privatization and other “neoliberal” market reforms.

Citing the recent candidacies of Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Ricardo Lagos in Chile, and Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina, Página 12 reporter Pablo Rodríguez writes that the new generation of social democrats “is spearheading a type of ‘third way’ that, repeating the European experience, aims to turn the page on the almost omnipresent neoliberal model in January 2000.”

The most unabashed and aggressive champion of the new interventionist model in Latin American economic management is Vázquez, the popular Montevideo mayor whose platform of wealth redistribution, tax reform, growth-oriented investment promotion, and government involvement in strategic sectors won unprecedented support in the October 31 first round of the Uruguayan presidential elections. While Vázquez failed to secure the absolute majority required to avert a second-round faceoff in late November with Jorge Batlle of the ruling Colorado Party, his success in gaining a clear plurality on the Progressive EncounterBroad Front (Encuentro Progresista-Frente Amplio) slate marked a historic breakthrough for the left-of-center opposition alliance.

The strong alliance showing represented “a clear vote of punishment” directed against the traditional Colorado and National parties that have shared power for decades, the conservative  La Nación of Buenos Aires reports (Nov. 1).

“The majority of Uruguayans registered a protest vote,” observes La Nación. “They voted against the present economic line, which they blame for a recession that, if not deep, is persistent and fills them with frustration, as they are accustomed to a high quality of life without problems.”