Is there a new generation of Latin American leaders who have moved beyond traditional labels, rather than isolating themselves in leftist and right-wing camps? Too early to tell, but two new presidents taking office in March, José Mujica of Uruguay and Sebastian Piñera of Chile, will be interesting case studies to follow.
Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Mujica, 74, is a former fighter of the Marxist Tupamaro movement and served almost 15 years in jail during military rule in Uruguay. Piñera is a 60-year-old billionaire businessman and holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University.
But both men talk about consultation and working on sound economic programs rather than promoting radical politics from one side or the other. Mujica’s Broad Front Party—which itself has members from the traditional left and right–has governed since 2005 under President Tabaré Vázquez. Mujica shows every sign of maintaining a policy more in line with Brazil under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, than, say, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Both Mujica and Piñera have praised the Brazilian president as a model for pragmatic governance. Mujica said that he supports, for example, Lula’s decision to invite Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brasilia last year. “The more you fence in Iran, so much harder it will be for the rest of the world,” Mujica said in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo.
Life has taught me that you can’t surround, fence in someone. It’s a mistake. This forces the other side to react, to fight back…The world does not need any more wars. It needs solutions.
In a recent interview with Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald, Piñera said that he was tired of the labels. Ostensibly, he is a conservative, a business leader assuming the Chilean presidency from a more moderate, even left-leaning incumbent, Michelle Bachelet. Piñera was a constant opponent of Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He said that he rejects being categorized as being to the left or to the right.
Definitely, I will always be on the side of the defense of democracy
and human rights, which by the way, is a commitment that all Latin
American countries have made in the OAS Charter, which specifically
states that it is the responsibility of all countries to defend
democracy and human rights across the hemisphere.
– Peter Eisner