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Why Andean states buck globalization

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 13, 2000



MEXICO CITY

South America's Andean countries are rattling the continent like a fidgety fault line. From Ecuador to Bolivia to Peru, the dawning months of 2000 have lurched from a political coup to paralyzing social movements.

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All serve as reminders that the post-cold-war promises of democratization and economic betterment through globalized markets have left many Latin Americans frustrated and poorer than they were a decade ago.

*In Bolivia this week, protests sparked by a water-system privatization plan turn violent, pushing President Hugo Banzer to declare martial law Saturday and warn that democracy itself is threatened.

*In Peru, 30,000 people in Lima chant "Down with the dictator" Tuesday as results from Sunday's presidential election trickle in. Suspicions of fraud are growing as incumbent President Alberto Fujimori's lead widens.

*In Ecuador, Indians and mid-level Army officers opposed to the government's economic program bring down a president and for a brief time in January install a military government - until international pressure effectively ushers the vice-president into power.

*In Colombia, President Andrs Pastrana has proposed a referendum to close down a corruption-plagued Congress until new elections can be organized.

*In Venezuela, public opinion is beginning to turn against a once wildly popular former coup leader turned president, Hugo Chvez. After more than a year in office, he faces a tough reelection bid in May.

"We are seeing what happens when the big expectations created for economic and social improvement collapse into the frustration of unfulfilled promises," says Alfredo Keller, a public opinion analyst in Caracas.

The process of globalization - exposing Latin America to a market-oriented, private-sector economy and international standards for democratic rule and human rights - has ushered in tremendous change that has benefitted some segments of the population, analysts say. Some workers have better access to goods and efficient services, with expanding options for political involvement and freedom of expression.

But for much of the middle and lower classes, observers add, the economic horizon has darkened. Those too poorly educated to benefit from new opportunities in a knowledge-based society are marginalized further, widening the world's worst rich-poor income gap. And as state-run industries have closed, whole sectors of the industrial-era economy have withered.

Privatizations, such as the planned waterworks sell-off that touched off Bolivia's strife, are seen benefitting only the financial elite. One of the principal entrepreneurs involved in the Bolivian package is a member of the ruling coalition who has become wealthy off government contracts. Meanwhile, some residents stewed over a a big water rate hike (see story right).

But if the Andean countries are most destabilized by this process of global change, it is because here more than in other countries of the region, economic upheaval has not been matched by equally swift political reform and modernization.

"The Andean countries offer the worst example of an inability to adapt to the forced march of globalization," says Bruce Bagley, an Andean specialist at the University of Miami. "It's the demise of the old system of governance that doesn't work anymore, without a more modern and efficient system to replace it."

Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and even countries of Central America - some still torn by warfare a decade ago - are doing a better job at reform, analysts say.