Lula in the Shadow of Chávez

To many on Wall Street, the US State Department, and the IMF, the specter of Ché Guevara and past legions of bearded, bandana-wearing commandantés is haunting Latin America. Not without reason. Left-leaning military officers have been on a roll lately. But another ghost haunts the continent: economic ignorance about Latin America in the capitals of the West.

Brazil's new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected with the same great expectations that brought the ex-paratrooper and coup leader Hugo Chávez to power in Venezuela three years ago. But it would be unwise to paint President Lula as a dangerous populist just because his political base resembles that of the wayward Chávez.

President Lula's poorest supporters undoubtedly expect him to transform Brazil from the world's most unequal society into a modern social democracy. His middle-class backers are no less eager to see their living standards grow. But despite these expectations, Lula is unlikely to pursue anything like the chaotic "Bolivarian Revolution" Chávez unleashed.

Expectations are always the hardest thing for leftist leaders to manage. For example, Lula's Workers' Party, which rejected pension reforms submitted by the previous Cardoso administration, expects Lula to preserve far more of the scheme than former President Cardoso believed possible.