Sunday, November 29, 2015

Venezuela has a national election a week from today, December 6.

The general attitude toward the Chavista party headed by President Nicolás Maduro, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), has been negative. The Obama Administration has had some moments where they were more critical of Maduro's government, others where it was less so. The network around American Cuban anti-Communists has in recent years taken up opposition to Maduro's government as a major focus.

It is generally the US policy, with rare exceptions, to favor governments in Latin America that are subservient to US desires and accommodating to US corporations. That in itself would be unexceptional, if it weren't for the many occasions in which the US has encouraged or helped install such governments that were also undemocratic, repressive and unresponsive to critical needs of the majorities in those countries.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim looks at the results of Argentina's Presidential election last Sunday as a trend which should make Maduro's party more assertive in defense (Argentina's Elections Should Be a Wake up Call for Venezuela Venezuela Analysis 11/23/2015):

Maduro needs to smash corruption and incompetence within his own government, fix what economic problems he can, and actually commit to deepening the Bolivarian revolution. Key to this is reconnecting with the grassroots movements and popular masses. If he doesn't, then Chavismo will follow Kirchnerismo into electoral defeat by the end of the decade. If the Venezuelan opposition doesn't take power in the December 6 elections, they'll likely stand a good chance at a recall referendum in 2016, or take the presidency in 2019. Put simply, time is no longer on the PSUV's side, and Argentina's recent elections should be a biting warning.
But that advice strikes me a basically boilerplate. The main part of the article is about Argentina's election.

Mallett-Outtrim says, "Argentina is also a country facing serious economic problems, including persistently high inflation."

I'm continually struck how inflation is Latin America is reported for American audiences, in this case from a site that is favorable to the Latin American left. Ten percent inflation sounds like catastrophe to Americans or Germans. But inflation tends to be higher in developing countries. Its actual effects on the people of the country depend on how much the general economy is growing and, critically, how much the real purchasing power is spread widely. In Argentina, workers and pensioners have generally seen their employment opportunities and real income rise since 2003, the beginning of the Kirchner era.

There is a psychological effect of inflation, that I recall Lester Thurow discussing with a metaphor. If someone give you $100, you have $100 more than you did before. If someone gives you $100, and then takes away $10 of it, you have $90 more than you did before. But in the latter case, you still feel like something has been taken away from you. Inflation can have a similar effect.

And, despite the econometric models that economists would like believe tell us otherwise, economics isn't the only factor in elections. And even on economic issues, not only does everyone not have the same short-term interests, there are also vastly different understandings and expectations of which policies will produce what result.

National pride and/or chauvinism can obviously play big roles in politics. The final political blow to the military dictatorship of 1976-83 was the junta's defeat in the Malvinas/Falklands War of 1982. Drugs, street crime, corruption, domestic violence, abortion rights, the courts, marriage equality and national debt are all issues that have played some role in Argentina in recent years. Corruption, or at least allegations of corruption, have also been prominent, but how decisive they are, I'm pretty dubious.

And, of course, the quality of the political campaigns do make a difference, too.

Mallett-Outtrim also writes, "On Sunday, Argentina's leftist presidential candidate Daniel Scioli was soundly defeated by the right-wing millionaire and opposition leader Mauricio Macri."

Well, maybe, depending on what "soundly" means. Mauricio Macri's winning margin over Daniel Scioli was 51-49. I would call that a clear victory, even "sound" enough to make a recount pointless. But it's not what I would call a landslide. It's what you would expect in a two-person race that was highly competitive.

But Mallett-Outtrim's description of Macri here is on point:

Macri's victory has already been welcomed in the international business press as a death blow to Argentina's social democracy, and a return to neoliberalism. Make no mistake: Macri is no progressive on any front. He has described homosexuality as a “disease,” believes women should relish being cat-called and once joked African descendants don't show up in photos without flash.

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