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Latin American voters go left, but not that far left

Hugo Chávez's victory caps off the region's year of elections, but in many ways, Venezuela stands alone.

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The landslide victory of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela's presidential election Sunday caps off 12 elections across Latin America since November 2005 that, taken together, reveal a broad electoral shift to the left.

The triumph of President Chávez, who rails against the "imperialist" US and calls President Bush "the devil," comes on the heels of victories by former US foe Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Ecuador's Rafael Correa, who called for a "citizen's revolution."

But in many ways Venezuela stands alone. "There is no Chávismo across Latin America," says Adrian Bonilla, a political analyst at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, Ecuador.

"What we have is a lot of new governments with different ideological trends. You don't have a continental leader," he says.

Indeed, analysts say that the leftist tide that appeared to be sweeping the region earlier this year has ebbed. While President Chávez led the pack in his anti-US fervor, the left comes from widely different ideologies and shares no unified front. Many seek some distance from the US, but don't shun the country. In many cases, candidates have had to moderate their images just to get elected.

There's no doubt that voters in most countries firmly rejected the "Washington consensus" and its orthodox free-trade policies this year, but they aren't necessarily seeking revolution. "The region is in great flux, and there is enormous frustration with persistent poverty. But there is no great revolutionary fervor in Latin America," says Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "There is certainly distrust of the US, but at the same time most [leaders] want to explore areas of cooperation with the US."

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