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Latin America's lurch to the left

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In Chile, socialist Michelle Bachelet won the Jan. 15 runoff election and, if anything, represents the political establishment in Chile. A member of the center-left coalition that has governed Chile since the country's transition to democracy, President-elect Bachelet has demonstrated her moderate credentials as the health and defense minister in the previous government. On the campaign trail, before becoming Chile's first elected woman president, Ms. Bachelet repeatedly emphasized her commitment to following and expanding the pro-market, free-trade economic model pursued by the past three governments.

Since assuming office five years ago in Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has also proven to be a market champion, sticking to the orthodox fiscal and trade policies pursued by his predecessor. Despite corruption scandals, the one-time labor leader is still the candidate to beat in October 2006.

Of the others leading in the polls, the greatest question mark is Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In his administration and campaign, the former mayor of Mexico City has demonstrated both pragmatic and populist tendencies in his politics and in his rhetoric. Nonetheless, Mexico's membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the close integration of the country's economy with the economies of its northern neighbors will limit any future Mexican president's latitude in fiscal and economic matters.

Bolivia is a different matter. It is too early to know the direction in which President Morales will take the country. But beyond a stated commitment to addressing poverty, there is little that unites the left-wing Bolivian president to the new president of Chile or candidates in Mexico and Brazil. During his campaign, the leader of street protests that brought down two governments promised to renationalize gas fields held by international investors and to end the US policy to eradicate coca, the leaf used to produce cocaine. These positions, and his close relationship to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and Cuban president Fidel Castro, have caused consternation throughout the region.

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