Leadership: Socialist Realism

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December 1,2008: One of the better decisions of the U.S. government recently, has been to keep a low profile with regard to the self-proclaimed "radical" governments in Nicaragua and Venezuela. They're now both collapsing under the weight of their inability to govern, particularly absent a foreign "patron" able to pump in money and other subsidies.

In Nicaragua, the communist Sandanista party, which made the mistake of holding free elections in 1980s, and lost power, are back. The Sandanistas back then were unable to deliver on any of their grandiose promises, and angered the population with their efforts to control so many aspects of peoples lives. The Sandanistas confirmed many suspicions when they looted the government on their way out. The winners of that election looked the other way, and got on with trying to solve the nations social and economic problems. They failed, and in 2006, the Sandanistas got voted in. As many expected, the Sandanistas had not learned much from their earlier errors, or the difficulties their successors had suffered. Returning to lots of socialist rhetoric, and no practical solutions, they quickly lost their electoral mandate. But the Sandanistas did learn one lesson from their past failures; the importance of fixing elections. They are now under increasing pressure, from their growing number of opponents, for trying to retain power by fixing local elections.

The basic problem in Nicaragua, as well of most of Latin America, is the politics of extremes. On the left there are radicals who seek a socialist paradise, usually run by a socialist dictatorship. This never works. On the other extreme there is the traditional plutocracy (rule by the few wealthy families that dominate the economies of most countries in the region.) If the plutocrats can buy voters, they will fall back on a military dictator. This doesn't work either, so the region has two centuries of unhappy, and often violent, politics.

Socialist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela thought he had a solution, given the oil wealth in the country. In the last century, the vast oil deposits have created some peace, and the growth of a larger middle class. But most Venezuelans remained poor, because the plutocrats would not follow the example of North America. That is, push education and make it easy for entrepreneurs to create wealth, and jobs. In Latin America, the wealthy are more intent on preserving their wealth, and power, than in growing it or sharing it. Chavez got himself elected, and re-elected, since 1998. But Chavez pursued the socialist dictatorship model, and it did what it has always done, failed. The oil wealth only went so far in keeping the socialist dreams alive. Now that the price of oil is plunging, the wasted and ineffective spending by Chavez is creating a growing hostility towards Chavez and his ideas.

An increasing number of Latin American business people, politicians and academics are pushing for the North American model. This is slowly changing popular ideas about what kind of society will solve the regions problems. The old plutocracy has long been discredited, but the rich families are still there, and still very powerful. The socialist model was popular for over half a century, but even the slow learners are beginning to realize that this doesn't work. Now, in countries like Brazil and Chile, new models based on education and entrepreneurial efforts are being tried, and succeeding. But the old ideas will linger for a long time, and so will their adverse effects.

 


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