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Latin America’s Calm Before the Storm

MEXICO CITY – The perpetual seesaw in Latin American geo-politics is more vibrant than ever. The so-called “Americas-1” countries – those that are either neutral in the confrontation between the United States and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (and Cuba), or openly opposed to the so-called “Bolivarian” governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – are slowly advancing. The “Americas-2” radical left is receding moderately, yet it can still maintain its positions and defeat any attempts to roll back its influence.

But the relative quiet in the ongoing ideological, political, and diplomatic conflict between the two groups of countries is only temporary. If anything, it is the calm before an approaching storm.

The tide has turned in part because voters in recent elections seem to have shifted from the center left to the center right, or at least re-confirmed their more conservative convictions. In Chile, the businessman and center-right democrat Sebastián Piñera put an end to more than twenty years of center-left Concertación rule. But his domestic policies, constrained by the recent severe earthquake and his own small mandate, differ only slightly from those of his predecessors, at least for now. The main change is in foreign policy, where, at least nominally, Piñera has clearly transferred Chile from one camp to another.

In Colombia, the situation is similar. The likely winner in the June 26 run-off election, Juan Manuel Santos, will pursue most of outgoing president Alvaro Uribe’s domestic policies, but might change course slightly in foreign affairs. He will probably be more aggressive in responding to neighboring Venezuela’s challenges, both on the border and throughout the region.