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Chile, Argentina, and Latin America's Two Lefts

After years in the shadows – and only referenced for its Cold War legacy – Latin America is back in the limelight. The world over, economic liberalization has been the call of the day. But recent elections throughout Latin America have inspired commentators to call the region a notable ideological exception: “Populism versus the Washington Consensus” according to some and “Latin America's socialist democratic left versus a caudillo populist left” according to others. The most common caricature now portrays Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro, buoyed by Bolivia's new president Evo Morales, on one side of the boxing ring with the moderate presidents of Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil huddled together in the opposite corner. Argentina's Kirchner is somewhere in the middle they say, while excluded entirely from the equation are Ecuador, Colombia, and Paraguay, not to mention all of Central America.

Argentine native and Spanish citizen, Martin Varsavsky believes that there are indeed two leftist models at work in Latin America:

He recibido muchas criticas a mi postura de que el socialismo chileno, y no el populismo venezolano imitado por Evo Morales, es el modelo de desarrollo ejemplar para Latinoamérica. Las he leído con cuidado, pero no he cambiado de opinión. Sigo pensando que Evo Morales es un “gasodictador” y que ha comenzado muy mal su gestion. Sigo sosteniendo que hay otro modelo para defender los intereses nacionales y lograr el desarrollo y el modelo es simplemente Chile.

I've received a lot of criticism for my position that it is the Chilean socialism, and not the Venezuelan populism imitated by Evo Morales, which is the exemplary model of development for Latin America. I have read those criticisms carefully, but I haven't changed my opinion. I continue to think that Evo Morales is a “gasdictator” and that he has started his governance very poorly. I still maintain that there is another model which looks out for national interests and achieves development and that model is simply Chile.

Primero la crítica a Evo Morales:
– Que le elijan Presidente no quiere decir que tenga el poder legislativo y judicial, sólo quiere decir que tiene poder ejecutivo con sus limitaciones.
– Es muy común en algunos nuevos líderes sudamericanos no aceptar estas limitaciones y querer acumular todos los poderes. Esto lo hacen poniendo jueces que no son realmente independientes y pasando decretos o saltándose directamente al poder Legislativo. Comportarse de esta manera no es democrático. Hay una gran correlación entre la inseguridad jurídica y el retraso económico y social. Evo Morales está transitando por ese camino al comenzar encarcelando ejecutivos y enviando al ejército a ocupar yacimientos y gasolineras.
– Evo Morales tiene todo el derecho de usar su limitado poder para tratar de que Bolivia consiga explotar sus recursos naturales en mejores condiciones que hasta ahora, pero optó por abusar del mismo. Bolivia puede y debe mejorar su situación, pero en el marco de sus leyes y el diálogo.
El pueblo boliviano es muy pobre y vive en condiciones muy tristes. Su situación es de las peores de Latinoamérica. Sin embargo, sabemos que el socialismo que ha funcionado en España y en Chile, el socialismo que yo apoyo, es el socialismo de mercado en el que el gobierno interviene como regulador y como redistribuidor del ingreso. El socialismo que no ha funcionado nunca es el socialismo/comunismo en el que el Estado se transforma en el productor principal de bienes y servicios y un dictador, o similar, controla el principal recurso exportador.

First, my critique of Evo Morales:
– Just because they select him president doesn't mean that he has legislative and judicial power, it only means that he has executive power with all its limitations.
– It's very commong for some of the new South American leaders to not accept these limitations and want to accumulate all the power. They do this by installing judges that are not really independent and passing decrees which bypass the legislature. Conducting oneself in this manner is not democratic. There is a large correlation between legal insecurity and economic and social retardation. Evo Morales is travelling down this path when he begins imprisoning executives and sending the army to occupy oil fields and gas companies.
– Evo Morales has the complete right to use his limited power to try to get Bolivia to exploit its natural resources with better conditions than it so far has, but he chose to abuse in this attempt. Bolivia can and must improve its situation, but with the stamp of its laws and dialogue.
– The Bolivian people are very poor and live in dismal conditions. Their situation is one of the worst in Latin America. However, we know that the socialism which has functioned in Spain and Chile – the socialism that I support – is the socialism of the market in which the government intervenes as a regulator and redistributor of income. The socialism that has never functioned is the socialism/communism in which the state is transformed into the principal producer of goods and services and a dictator, or something similar, controlls the exportation of resources.

Al verme acusado de ser tan de derechas por apoyar el modelo chileno, sentí que muchos en Latinoamérica no conocen modelos exitosos y caen en extremos. Estos críticos sólo conocen la ultraderecha del neoliberalismo corrupto y ahora han decidido experimentar con el otro extremo, saltándose el modelo ganador que es el que está en el medio, el modelo que yo apoyo, el de Chile y que similar al del país donde vivo, España.

To watch me be accused of being so “of the right” for supporting the Chilean model, I felt that many people in Latin America don't know succesful models and end up on the extremes. These critics only know the ultra-right of corrupt neoliberalism and have now decided to experiment with the other extreme, jumping over the winning model which is in the middle, the model that I support, the model of Chile and which is similar to the country where I live, Spain.

Varsavsky then goes on to explain his own experience of starting his Educar project both in Chile and Argentina and claims the difference between the two countries is that in Chile, “the officials that love their country and build its future are the rule while in Argentina they are the exception.”

La Argentina de Kirchner puede optar por el modelo chileno o por el venezolano. Parece tener ministros de las dos tendencias. Espero de todo corazón que opte por el modelo chileno. Todos los latinoamericanos que crean que la opción es el neoliberalismo corrupto o las pseudodemocracias populistas se equivocan, porque hay otra opción, que se llama Chile, y que no fue construida por Pinochet como dijo alguno en un comentario, fue construida por Allende y su equipo, que volvió al poder con gente como Fernando Flores y segundas generaciones como Michelle Bachelet.

Cuando tenía 13 años fuí a gritar “arriba la izquierda, viva Chile mierda” a la embajada chilena luego del golpe de Pinochet. Hoy leyendo las críticas en mi blog lo vuelvo a gritar. Allende era un demócrata socialista que murió luchando por los intereses de su país. Allende, Lagos, Bachelet, inclusive el uruguayo Tabaré Vazquez, son modelos a seguir. Morales, Ollanta y Chávez son modelos a evitar. ¿Y Kirchner? Como comentó uno, Kirchner da en el palo (expresión argentina que quiere decir que no es gol, pero casi).

Kirchner's Argentina can opt for either the Chilean or Venezuelan model. He seems to have ministers of both tendencies. I hope with all of my heart that he chooses the Chilean model. All of the Latin Americans who believe that the option is the same as the corrupt neoliberalism or pseudo-democratic populism are mistaken. Because there is another option and it's called Chile and it wasn't constructed by Pinochet like someone said in a comment, it was built by Allende and his team, which returned to power with people like Fernando Flores and second generations like Michelle Bachelet.

When I was 13-years-old I went to yell “power to the Left, long live Chile” in front of the Chilean embassy after Pinochet's coup. Today, reading the criticisms on my blog, I will yell out again. Allende was a socialist democrat who dies fighting for the interests of his country. Allende, Lagos, Bachelet, as well as the Uruguayan, Tabaré Vazquez, are models to follow. Morales, Ollanta, and Chávez are models to avoid. And Kirchner? Like one person commented, Kirchner hits the pole (an Argentine expression which means that it's not a goal, but almost).

The post generated a strong response, both in the comments section and in a continuing conversation around other blogs throughout Latin America. Jordi, a Spaniard living in Venezuela comments:

soy español y resido en CAracas desde hace casi un año. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con tus post relativos a la izquierda en latinoamérica. Entre esgolpistas [sic], dictadores energéticos… el continente está bien mal. Espero que todo cambie, pero te aseguro que por aquí las cosas están bien feas.

I'm Spanish and I have resided in Caracas for almost a year now. I completely agree with your post regarding the left in Latin America. Among coups, energy dictators … the continent is in bad shape. I hope that everything changes, but I assure you that over here things are very ugly.

Diego Giol, an Argentine from the Northern city of Mendoza now working for the UN in Switzerland also leaves a comment in support of Varsavsky's position. And then continues on his own blog:

Ayer di con un video de Hugo Chávez que se emitió en la televisión Argentina que me hizo reflexionar mucho sobre algunos de los líderes en nuestra región. Yo creo que de verborragia, latinoamérica ya ha tenido demasiado. Me da mucha lástima ver la pobreza que crece al ritmo de los agravios. Me apasiona la política, el desarrollo y la economía (por ello estoy en las Naciones Unidas ) y cosas así me dan impotencia. Pero por otro lado veo la otra izquierda, la Chile, la de Bachelet y veo cómo ese país sigue creciendo, reduciendo su pobreza, invirtiendo en infraestructura y haciendo acuerdos estratégicos con países importantísimos como China y Estados Unidos entre otros. Verdaderamente espero que el crecimiento y la coherencia se expandan por la región y desplacen al populismo que tanto mal nos ha hecho en el pasado.

Yesterday, a video of Hugo Chavez broadcasted on Argentine TV made me reflect a lot about some of the leaders in our region. I believe that Latin America has already had enough with the verbose rhetoric. It fills me with pity to watch poverty increase at the same pace as the political insults. I'm passionate about politics, development, and economics (which is why I'm in the United Nations) so things like that make me feel powerless. But on the other hand, I see another left, that of Chile, of Bachelet, and I see that this country keeps growing, reducing its poverty, investing in infrastructure and making strategic agreements with important countries like China, the United States, among others. Truthfully, I hope that the growth and the coherency are expanded throughout the region and that they displace the populism that has done so much bad to us in the past.

But not everyone is so eager for advice from Europe. An anonymous commenter on Varsavksy's post says:

Yo habiendo vivido en America latina puedo decir que lo mejor es que los pueblos debemos ir buscando nuestro camino, que cometeremos errores, asi es, pero por favor dejenos cometer nuestros errores. Afortunadamente los paises no son como las empresas, donde una sola persona decide todo. Un pais debe ser conducido por el pueblo, asi esta diseñada la Democracia, la cual desgraciadamente es lenta. El Banco Mundial trato de dirigir como un gran dictador las economias de estos paises con los errores que ya todos conocemos. No creo que nadie tenga la formula secreta para que cada pais avance de la noche a la mañana hacia el exito total, yo creo que es un proceso.

Having lived in Latin America, I can say that the best option is that the people should go searching their own path. We'll commit errors, that's how it goes, but please let us commit our own errors. Fortunately the countries aren't like businesses where just one person decides everything. A country should be driven by its people, that's how democracy is designed, and unfortunately it goes slow. The World Bank tries to lead the economies of these countries like a grand dictator making all the errors which we've all come to know. I don't believe that anyone has the secret forumla for each country to become an overnight success. I think it's a long process.

Antonio is much more aggressive in his criticism:

Realmente me asombra lo que decis Martin. Yo amo la democracia, la libertad y la Paz, pero debo decirte que no estoy de acuerdo con lo que decis. Mi opinion es que Evo Morales como indigena demostro a los seudoeuropeos Argentinos, Chilenos, Brasileños ETC, como se deben defender los recursos naturales de un Pais y por eso no es un DICTADOR, simplemente no deja que le sigan ROBANDO como lo vienen haciendo desde hace 500 años los Europeos especialmente España y desde hace 150 años EEUU.

What you say really astonishes me Martin. I love democracy, liberty, and peace, but I must tell you that I don't agree with what you say. My opinion is that Evo Morales, as an indigenous leader, showed the psuedo-European Argentines, Chileans, Brazilians, etc. how the natural resources of a country must be defended and for that he's not a dictator; simply put, he didn't allow [foreigners] to keep stealing like they have been doing for the past 500 years, especially Spain, and for the last 150 years, the United States.

Corsaria maintains that Bolivia's situation cannot be compared to Chile's or Argentina's:

Evo Morales es la respuesta a un modelo económico fallido en Bolivia. Hay que proponer modelos que redistribuyan la riqueza y no solo se limiten a crearla. El caso de Bolivia no es comparable al de Chile ni muchísimo menos al de España. El socialismo importado de Europa no puede funcionar en sudamerica. Y eso es algo que muchos no entienden. De hecho las políticas que funcionan en Chile no tienen porqué funcionar en paises cercanos. Son casos distintos al margen de su situación geográfica. Evo no es el problema, sino el modelo económico que este hereda. La nacionalizacion es posible que no sea la mejor solución pero no he visto alternativas que no sean… liberalizar, liberalizar y liberalizar. Esta receta ha fallado.. asi que hay que dejar de incidir en ellas.

Evo Morales is the response of a failed economic model in Bolivia. There must be proposed models that redistribute the wealth and don't just limit its creation. The case of Bolivia is not comparable to that of Chile and much less that of Spain. Socialism imported from Europe cannot function in South America. And that's something which many don't understand. In fact, the policies that work in Chile, won't work in neighboring countries. They are distinct cases dependent on their geographic situation. Evo is not the problem, but rather the economic model that is inherited. Nationalization is possibly not the best solution, but I haven't seen alternatives which aren't … privatize, privatize, privatize. This recipe has failed and we must stop from falling into the same trap.

In all, Varsavsky's post attracted more than 60 comments, many of them disagreeing with his comparison of Salvador Allende to the leadership of Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet. Others were in support of his praise of Chile's political and economic model, while a few called for each country to follow its own path without following any “model” at all. Yet still others disagreed violently, arguing instead that Chávez and Morales were exactly what Latin America's poor need to recover the resources stolen from them by colonization and then Neoliberalism.

In fact, a few days later – after meeting with Mariano Amartino and Alejandro Piscitelli – Varsavsky remarked:

Hablamos sobre Chile y yo comenté que al apoyar el modelo chileno y no el venezolano en mi blog había recibido comentarios a favor, pero muchos en contra y algunos que no publiqué en el que me insultaban muy fuertemente. Mariano comentó que el dejó de escribir sobre política porque le llegaron a rayar el auto. Alejandro dijo que el mío era más difícil que me lo vinieran a rayar aquí…Yo pensé que mejor que te rayen el auto y no que te rompan la cabeza como le hicieron a mi padre en la noche de los bastones largos o que directamente que te maten como lo asesinaron a mi primo.

We spoke of Chile and I commented that the post supporting the Chilean model and not the Venezuelan one had recieved favorable comments, but also many in opposition and some which I didn't publish because they insulted me strongly. Mariano commented that he stopped writing about politics because it got so bad that they scratched up his car. Alejandro said that it would be more difficult for them to come and scratch my car here … I thought that it's better that they scratch a car and not smash your head like they did to my father during “the night of the long batons” or that they simply kill you like how they assassinated my cousin.

Varsavsky also has a blog in English, though it tends to focus on his company rather than Latin American issues.


  • It’s a pity that Argentina’s Kircher and his confrontational posture (against any that doesn’t think like him) are going towards authoritarianism.

  • Francisco

    la verdad es que el tema América Latina seme hace dificil de tratarcon frialdad, pero aún asi, yo no veo q sea un problema de gobierno de derechas o izquierda buenos o malos, es verdad que la actuación de cada uno influye, pero el problema es mucho mas profundo, mas largo y viene de muchos años atras, cuando estas tierras pasaron a ser colonias de. y lo siguen siendo eternamente,
    Francisco , Mza. Argentina

  • Leonardo Stumpff

    Como chileno me gusta el modelo de desarrollo continuo desarrollado por todos los ultimos gobiernos , ya que chilenos lo vemos como una constante de desarrollo , inquietante para nosotros es la politica e inestabilidad de otros paises latinoamericanos en especial Bolivia y Venezuela cuyas acciones frenan el desarrollo , especialmente preocupa la volatilidad de Bolivia con politicas indigenistas y populistas que lamentablemente estan subyugadas a la influencia de los petrodolares venezolanos , estas politicas combinadas con un patente nacionalismo de Bolivia y un permanente antichilenismo crean un freno no solo para la economia chilena sino para las economias y estabilidad del cono sur.


    El modelo chileno (que debe gracias a Pinochet y Allende en parte) es un buen comienzo para para lograr un mejor desarrollo ecomnomico.Tambien chile es uno de los paises con menos corrupcion en america latina, por eso ese modelo funciona.
    El modelo de Chavez y Evo (modelo Caudillista Demagogico) solo va a llevar a esos paises al lugar en que esta Cuba,represion,falta de toda libertad,desastre economico,emigracion y desestabilizacion de los paises vecinos.

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