For those following the news from Bolivia, you know that recently there has been heightened political tension within the country. This has to do with constitutional reforms associated with President Evo Morales. The tensions map onto a longstanding social and geographic divide between the mostly poor highland west, where most of the country’s population resides, and the lowland east, associated with agricultural production, the country’s oil and gas resources, and a small wealthy elite. The constitutional reforms would result in more wealth redistributed to the west, with many in the east calling for greater autonomy, or even independence, for the lowland eastern provinces. Simon Romero has published a good overview of the situation in the International Herald Tribune, “Little Middle Ground in Country of Extremes.”
On a related note is a post I recently encountered on the blog “Two Weeks Notice,” written by Greg Weeks, “Thoughts on Democratators.” Weeks addresses a term, “democratator” (and an ugly neologism it is), combining “democracy” with “dictator,” that has been used by some media commentators to imply that some popularly elected leaders (and especially Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa), once elected, act as de facto dictators. Weeks’ point is not to suggest that neither Chávez nor Morales nor Correa are lacking in authoritarian tendencies, but instead to go on to address a larger point, to point out the problematic tendency in much media commentary to conflate all variety of “leftists” and even to conflate all manner of leaders with authoritarian tendencies as if they are the same. Weeks writes, “No matter what you think of Correa, he is not Musharraf. Nor is Chávez the same as Hosni Mubarak.”
Frankly, Chávez probably contributes to this tendency through his cultivation of close ties not just with Cuba’s Fidel Castro (which makes sense) but also with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko. I would also give credit to the writers of most of the news stories and commentaries I’ve read recently pertaining to Latin America for increasingly differentiating between “leftists” of the Chávez/Morales/Correa variety and “leftists” like Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or Chile’s Michelle Bachelet. When Lula and Bachelet first rose to prominence, they too were often associated if not conflated with Chávez, where now they are increasingly presented as “good” or “responsible” leftists to the bad leftism of Chávez, Morales, and Correa.