04 January 2011 ~ 0 Comentarios

The agony and death of the Democratic Left

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

With Carlos Andrés Pérez dies the last great representative of the” Democratic Left, an ideological current with an international bent that” came” together in Latin America in the mid-20th Century. Who formed it?” Basically,” the Peruvian Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (APRA), the Venezuelan Rómulo” Betancourt (AD), the Costa Rican José Figueres (Liberación), the” Guatemalan” Juan José Arévalo, the Bolivian Victor Paz Estenssoro (MNR), the Dominican” Juan Bosch (PRD), the Cubans Ramón Grau and Carlos Prío (PRC) and the” Puerto” Rican Luis Muñoz Marín (PP).

All of them, except for Haya de la Torre, who was the smartest and” brightest, governed in their respective countries. All, except for Muñoz” Marín, suffered persecution and exile. All, except for Juan Bosch, who in” 1963 was democratically elected and seven months later was overthrown by” the” army, made profound reforms that left a deep mark in the society of their” times. The first to reach power was Arévalo in 1945, but his governance” had” no continuity in the convulsed Guatemala of his time.

What did they believe in? They were convinced democrats, antimilitarists,” nationalists, anticommunists, interventionists, statists and, to a degree,” pro-American. They had reconciled with Washington and capitalism. They” thought that the national economic ills could be corrected with the” mythical” agrarian reform, the nationalization of credit and state control over” certain “essential” public services. They aspired to create large middle” classes and recruited their supporters among the salaried workers.

They were Keynesians, of course, at least in the sense that they believed” that employment, inflation and the creation of wealth could be modulated” through the manipulation of the public expenditure. They were also” CEPALians” when it came to the erection of tariff barriers to provoke” industrialization” through the gradual substitution of imports by good that were produced at” home. They saw economic planning as the modern road to development.

In reality, the Democratic Left was the Latin American expression of” Europe’s social democracy. Like social democracy, it came from a dusty” (and” by then discarded) Marxist analysis, but it sprinkled it with a strong” antimilitaristic component, because at that time, in Hispanic America, the” great leading enemy was the army, which had to be subjected to civilian” authority. There were other tenacious adversaries, however: the rural” oligarchy and, very noticeably, the weak but always insidious pro-Soviet” communist parties.

The exercise of power was not exactly glorious for the Democratic Left. In” general, following the experience of several periods of governance in” various countries, society discovered that statism, central planning and” excessive public expenditures led to inflation, the corruption of the” ruling” class in collusion with the businessmen and mercantilist courtiers, the” creation of parasitical bureaucracies that hampered the creation of wealth” and made it more expensive, technological backwardness and the growth of” poverty and inequality.

Some politicians in the Democratic Left, or their successors, lived long” enough to rectify their original mistakes. The first one was Victor Paz” Estenssoro. The man who in the 1950s staged a violent nationalist” revolution” in Bolivia returned to power in the 1980s, much wiser, to give authority” back to his country’s civilian society by reducing the weight of the” State,” controlling public expenditure, and relying more on the market than on the” decisions of bureaucrats.

In Peru, Alan García was a similar case. His second mandate has been,” happily, the negation of the first. Something similar occurred in” Venezuela:” Carlos Andrés Pérez returned to power in 1989 ready to correct the errors” of” his first mandate (1974-79). He did so, very rightly, but the political” squabbling, carried to a judicial level, managed to, first, remove him” from” power and, second, sentence him to house arrest, a maneuver that” dangerously” wore down Venezuela’s weak democratic institutionality.

In Costa Rica – where the ideas of the Democratic Left were most” successful,” beginning with José Figueres’ revolution – Oscar Arias dedicated his two” presidential terms to trying to correct the partial mistakes of the” initial” theory. He already had the copious analyses by the Nobel laureate in” economy” James Buchanan and his disciples at the Virginia School of the pernicious” behavior of the public sector, plus the impressive work of thinkers like” Mises, Hayek, Gary Becker, Douglass North and half a dozen other giants.” Quite simply, the starting point was all wrong.

What paradigms remain in Latin America? Basically two: Chile – the” governments of the Concertación and Piñeras’, which are the same, with” different shadings – and the Chavist mishmash. Nobody takes Argentina’s” tumultuous kleptocracy seriously. The Democratic Left is no more. It’s” over.

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