Twenty-First Century Populism

In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador a new left is said to being born, which their presidents call “twenty-first century socialism.” But, despite the supposed novelty of their vision, their actions seem only to be replicating the self-destructive policies that have brought such agony to Cuba.

Unlike the old leftist movements, which relied on armed struggle, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa came to power through the ballot box. Once in power, they have appealed to the masses and called for constitutional reforms to enlarge their power.

In Venezuela, Chávez has strengthened his political position through a Constituent Assembly that changed the constitution. Bolivia’s Morales also has managed to impose a similar Assembly, though with uncertain results, and Correa is wielding the threat of constitutional change against “the traditional parties, the native oligarchies, and the empire” – the common enemies of all three presidents.

The Constituent Assembly approach has, so far, proven to be very effective in helping these new caudillos to consolidate their power. Because it is a process that calls for total reform, it helps them avoid debates about specific changes.