Page 1 of 3

How George W. Bush Unified Latin America

Che rides again (on a mountain bike).

| Sat Mar. 25, 2006 1:00 AM PST

Has Latin America ever had such a unifying figure?

At political rallies, his visage is held aloft as a beacon to regional independence and self-determination. He's helped forge new trade partnerships to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. And his leadership has fanned a gale-force electoral trend that's sweeping the hemisphere to topple one pro-Washington government after the next.

Who is this grand inductor of Latin American leftism? Venezuelan fireball Hugo Chavez? Blue-collar Brazilian Lula Ignacio da Silva? Bolivia's coca-farmer-cum-president, Evo Morales?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

¡Epa! It's George W. Bush, the accidental revolutionary.

In the past five years, the swaggering Texan has inspired a leftward surge that is uniting Latin America and threatening to knock Che Guevara right off all those natty t-shirts.

When Che's ill-fated insurgency ended in the jungles of Bolivia with his death in 1967, his vision of a single, unified, socialist continent remained utterly unfulfilled. U.S.-backed right-wing military dictators would rule much of Latin America over the ensuing two decades, and many of Che's followers would be tortured and killed in efforts to overthrow them.

As democracy returned to the region at the end of the Cold War, most Latin American governments rushed to embrace the "Washington consensus" -- market-oriented liberalization policies that cut social spending and privatized national industries in order to pay down national debts. But the formula, pushed on the region by successive American presidents, largely failed to deliver the goods and left entire governments bankrupt and beholden to foreign lenders. For Latin America's angry, marginalized, impoverished masses, already-threadbare social safety nets only unraveled further.

"The macroeconomic proposals of the Washington consensus have not been working," says Guillermo Delgado, professor of Latin American Studies at UC Santa Cruz. "That model was supposed to create prosperity and, after so many years, such prosperity has not been seen and class polarization has grown deeper."

Sensing an opportunity, new social and political movements in the region began marshalling their forces. Then George W. Bush came along, combining Yankee hubris with a Che-worthy radicalizing touch.

Bush has since presided over one of the most significant political re-alignments in the history of the Western Hemisphere. By this summer, every major Latin American nation but Colombia is likely to be run by elected leaders with stronger backgrounds in Marx than free markets. If Cold War-era "domino theory" has been a bust in the Middle East, it's working with textbook precision in Latin America.

Page 1 of 3
Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.