On Sunday, Bolivia became the fourth South American country to hold elections in less than two months. It confirmed what is now a well-established trend: politically, the continent has shifted to the left.

Bolivia’s new president will be socialist Evo Morales; results so far leave it unclear whether or not he has more than 50% of the vote, but his leading opponent, Jorge Quiroga, has conceded defeat. If Morales falls short of the 50% mark he will have to be confirmed by Bolivia’s parliament, but this will be a formality.

Legislative elections in Argentina and Venezuela both delivered gains to their left-wing governments, then earlier this month, Chile’s elections gave the left a majority in Congress and put them in the lead for the presidency, although Michelle Bachelet faces a run-off election in the new year. If she wins, Bachelet will be the first woman elected president in the region, and now Morales has become the first indigenous South American head of state.

In contrast to the moderate and generally pro-American social democrats of Chile, however, Morales is something of an ideologue – “the poster boy of anti-globalisation,” as The Guardian called him. He has argued against a free trade agreement, and counts Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro among his allies.

But perhaps Morales’s strongest disagreement with the US is not about economics, but about the future of Bolivia’s coca crop. Inspired by anti-drug hysteria, the US has insisted on eradication of coca (the raw material for cocaine), causing devastation in Bolivia’s peasant communities. Morales, a former coca leaf farmer himself, says he is opposed to the drug trade but supports coca growing for legitimate purposes.

George W Bush portrays himself as the leader of the free world, but the things that most hurt America’s standing are its attacks on freedom.
Whether it’s “war on drugs” or “war on terror,” rough tactics are doing its cause more harm than good.

Peter Fray

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