Sucre, Bolivia (PanAm) – Bolivia’s latest corruption scandal is like a soap opera: Gabriela Zapata, who had a son with left-wing president Evo Morales, is under arrest for allegedly benefiting from illicit contracts. She told Morales that their son had died, but now she claims the boy is alive and in the custody of relatives. Evo wants to see him.
The curious story is on everyone’s tongue just days after Bolivians rejected Morales’s referendum bid to reform the constitution in order to stay in power until 2025. Possibly, the scandal was a major blow to the president’s attempt to remain in office, although a slow economy and his party’s abuse of power certainly played an important role.
Morales’s failure is the latest in a string of electoral defeats for Latin America’s leading left-wingers since late 2015. These include the defeat of populists Manuel Baldizón and Sandra Torres in Guatemala, Peronism’s historic loss to Mauricio Macri in Argentina, and theChavistas‘ utter rout at the hands of the opposition in Venezuela’s congressional elections.
But there’s more: both Michelle Bachelet and Dilma Rousseff, presidents of Chile and Brazil respectively, have dismal approval rates.
In sum, all forms of leftism are in clear decline throughout the region.
Sinking commodity prices help explain the demise of the left, whose leaders can no longer spend like they used to in order to buy citizens’ votes. But there’s more to it than that. In all countries dominated by leftists, corruption scandals have emerged that undermined the rulers and politicians who claimed to defend the poor by waging class war and proclaiming vague socialist ideas.
Latin American citizens seem to have had enough of leaders who, for years, have shamelessly wasted taxpayers’ money without any controls or transparency, having only poor results to show for all the spending.
It remains to be seen what awaits our societies in the coming years. The left’s failures are certainly not irreversible, and they don’t mean that our countries will automatically follow right-wing policies. Among other things, no credible right-wing or conservative movement has emerged in Latin America during the past decades.
It is clear, however, that citizens have woken up, and this will make it very difficult for socialists and populist politicians to take over the state like Hugo Chávez did in 1998. Voters who are more conscious and alert about corruption and the handling of public money will probably oppose movements like the one which led Evo Morales and his ilk to power.
It is also likely that voters will refrain from granting absolute power to those who abused the democratic process in order to establish authoritarian regimes. In the case of Venezuela, it turned out to be a plain dictatorship.
But we must temper our optimism. Let’s not forget what happened in the last two decades of the 20th century, when almost all countries in the region made reforms in the direction of democracy and open markets.
It’s not enough to take one or two steps in that direction to ensure our countries are in the path toward economic growth and freedom: it is necessary to hold the conviction that only a free-market economy truly spurs growth and that democracy is not a winner-takes-all contest.
Without a deep respect for accountability and individual freedom, we will always run the risk of ending up being ruled by despots and living in misery. Socialism can always make a comeback
This report prepared by Carlos Sabino for PanAm Post.