Bolivian voters deal a blow to authoritarianism

From the Washington PostLATIN AMERICA’S encouraging march away from authoritarian populism moved another step forward last week in Bolivia, where voters rejected the attempt of President Evo Morales to remove a limit on his tenure from the constitution. The result will not be dramatic change: Mr. Morales, who was first elected in 2005, can still remain in office until 2020 — long enough, perhaps, to mount another referendum. But the result, following the recent electoral defeats of populist regimes in Argentina and Venezuela, is another sign that the region is leaving behind a movement that, in the name of a pseudo-socialism, dismantled democratic checks and balances.

Mr. Morales rose to power with the sponsorship of former Venezuelan ruler Hugo Chávez and adopted many of his political tactics. He promoted a new constitution that weakened the democratically elected Congress, compromised the independence of courts and the central bank and intimidated independent media. A newly docile Supreme Court ruled that he could run for a third term in 2015, even though the new constitution had limited presidents to two terms. Already the longest-serving president in Bolivia’s history, Mr. Morales hoped the referendum would allow him to run for yet another five-year term in 2019.

The Bolivian leader avoided some of the Chavistas’ worse excesses, particularly in economic policy. He used the country’s burgeoning revenue from gas exports to invest in roads and other infrastructure; growth has averaged 5 percent a year over the past decade, and extreme poverty has fallen by half. While Venezuela squandered a windfall from high oil prices, Mr. Morales prudently built up an impressive reserve fund. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.