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Peru election highlights decline of Latin America's hard-core left

The rebranding of left-leaning populist Ollanta Humala ahead of today's Peru election shows the wide spectrum of leftism in today's Latin America and how the most radical fold has started to wane.

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For many, this shows that leftist centrism has nudged out the far-left candidates that were sweeping polls early in the decade, largely supported by Chávez. Luis Alberto López Rafaschieri, a political consultant and blogger in Venezuela, says that with the inauguration of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 2007 came the last "imitator" of Chávez. Subsequent candidates have pledged their centrist ethos.

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Mr. López Rafaschieri says that while Chávez's rhetoric is attractive, inflation, crime, and power shortages at home have meant that in practice his popularity suffers. Chávez's regional influence has also waned as petrodollars have run short.

Broad range of views

In broad terms, the region is led by two lefts: a centrist one and the more radical one. But between those extremes are so many different shades that it is hard to pigeonhole any of them. That diversity, institutionalized in the São Paulo Forum, a conference of 80 left-leaning political parties and movements from Latin America and the Caribbean, was on full display this month in Managua, Nicaragua, for the group's 17th congress. Forum members control 11 governments in the region, and hope to pick up Peru after June 5.

But they aren't an easily labeled group. This year's congress brought together democratic progressives such as Lula, bitter antiestablishment socialists such as the Honduran resistance, and old-guard rulers such as Mr. Ortega.

If Humala were to be at the São Paulo forum, many Peruvians are not sure at which table he would sit. Some suspect that his remake into a centrist is an electoral ploy only used to appeal to voters.

But no matter where on the spectrum Humala may fall, Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., says that economic growth in the country leaves him less space to employ an ideological transformation as happened in Venezuela.

"When Chávez came in, Venezuela had been a disaster. There had been two lost decades," says Mr. Shifter. "Whoever wins in Peru will inherit a country that is institutionally weak, but with an economy that has been very dynamic. That puts limits on what can you do."

-- Tim Rogers contributed from Managua, Nicaragua.

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