South America continues its shift to the left

Bolivia has elected its first Aymara Indian head of state:

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) – South America’s leftward tilt has gained momentum with the likely victory of Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales, the coca-farming Indian who calls himself “Washington’s nightmare.”

Morales, whose election is all but assured given his wide margin in Sunday’s voting, takes guidance from the anti-American populist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and considers the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara his hero.

Morales and Chavez, along with more moderate leftist presidents in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, have risen to power in part by appealing to their peoples’ frustration with U.S. political, military and economic influence. Their success suggests how much goodwill the United States has lost in the region in recent years.

Despite their strident anti-U.S. rhetoric, these leaders are focused on big business. Setting aside some old grievances, they are expanding economic alliances, making energy deals, planning new roads and talking about a resurgent South America that delivers economic progress for its people, with little help from Washington.

Mr. Morales is, apparently, like Lula in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela, another populist leftist. He will, no doubt, manage Bolivia’s trade in a manner different than Washington would like. This is part of what some refer to as an anti-free trade movement which appears to be gaining momentum among the developing nations (to which I alluded in my post on trade yesterday). It would be a little easier to characterize this movement as “anti-free trade” if our own policies were actually in favor of free trade rather than in favor of free trade when it’s to our benefit.

Glenn Reynolds reports the story this way:

BOLIVIA HAS ELECTED A SOCIALIST who promises to legalize coca production. I expect Evo Morales to be another tedious Latin American lefty disaster, but I don’t think the coca-legalization move is so dumb. The anti-coca program has been a disaster, and ineffective to boot. And contrary to what Gateway Pundit jokes, I think this is probably bad news for crack dealers.

Legalize the stuff, tax it like tobacco, and let the trial lawyers sue sellers for any product defects or dangers. Morales won’t know what hit him.

My friend and patron Dean Esmay like this:

It looks like Bolivia has elected an indigenous President who will decriminalize coca production.

It’s good news if he does it, since the so-called “war on drugs” is the most massive failure of U.S. government policy in American history. We need to be fighting it with education and treatment programs, not with troops or by meddling in South America’s politics.

I’m afraid that both Glenn and Dean have allowed their idealism and libertarian inclinations to triumph over sounder judgment. First, in Glenn’s case, how is a narcotics industry driven underground by product liability lawsuits better than a narcotics industry driven underground by the criminal code?

In Dean’s case, I see almost no likelihood of a massive education program or drug treatment program gaining any political support. Historically, it’s been quite difficult to attract major support to any program here unless it’s a military program. Exceptions to this, of course, are the Social Security system and Medicare (both programs for the elderly). Our levees are constructed and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The construction and maintenance of our major highway system is through the Federal-Aid Interstate Highway Act of 1956 also known as the Federal Interstate Highway and Defense Act of 1956 (the highways are dual-purpose). Student loans were granted through the National Defense Education Act. And so on.

I won’t defend the War on Drugs but it was characterized that way for a reason: to give it a national defense cachet. And, since the American Civil War, Americans have had a predisposition to fight our wars on soil other than our own.

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