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Investigative Reporting

Latin America's 'pragmatic' pink tide

| Sunday, March 6, 2005

Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises reminded in 1932 that the socialist movement takes great pains to frequently circulate new labels for its "ideally constructed state." Seventy-three years later, socialists still are playing that game.

Just as socialists masquerading as liberals in the United States now call themselves "progressives," apologians for this particularly odoriferous political philosophy in Latin America now call themselves "pragmatists."

Sadly, some in the media have become willing accomplices.

Uruguay last week became the sixth South American nation to install a socialist president. He's Tabare Vazquez, 65, a former cancer doctor who rose to power as so many socialists do -- on a populist platform. They promise the world to the disaffected and downtrodden. Capitalism• It hasn't worked. We have the answers. Details• Later, thank you.

The Wall Street Journal's David Luhnow reported that "Mr. Vazquez represents a new breed of pragmatic leftists in Latin America who hope to combine the left's traditional warm-hearted social goals with a newfound appreciation for cold economic calculus."

Vazquez will "almost certainly be pragmatic and moderate, mirroring the evolution of the 'left' in the region over the last generation." At least that's the opinion of Michael Shifter and Vinay Jawahar, the policy vice president and program associate, respectively, at Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

Larry Rohter, The New York Times' man in Montevideo, Uruguay, characterized President Vazquez's ascension as part of "not so much a red tide" sweeping South America "as a pink one."

"Doctrinaire socialism carries the day far less than pragmatism, an important change that makes this new political movement decidedly new," Mr. Rohter offered.

For those who don't know what socialism is or its history, that is.

As Messrs. Shifter and Jawahar note, Vazquez is a product of a group known both as the Broad Front-Progressive Encounter or the Broad Encounter/Broad Front/New Majority. That's "a coalition of communists, socialists and former Tupamaro urban guerillas," they note. "Urban guerillas" is a nice way to say "terrorists."

How quaint.

Vazquez intends to re-establish diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro and Cuba.

Oooh, cozy .

Vazquez, reports The Times' Rohter, is promising that "the state will play a greater role and not leave the market to its own devices." Some economists in the region are willing to give "pragmatists" such as Vazquez "a chance to tinker with free-market formulas, including giving the state a more active role in managing the economy," writes The Journal's Luhnow.

Ah, governments know better than markets, now do they laddies• One of Professor von Mises' intellectual heirs, F.A. Hayek, had a phrase for that, don't you know -- "the fatal conceit."

Hey, one of the former leading guerillas (that is, terrorists) is a leading Uruguayan senator these days. Jose Mujica even renounces socialism as a "failure." But then this: "(T)here are no alternatives. We have to take a pragmatic line."

But "pragmatism" by any other name for this crowd is, well, as the Vazquez platform shows, more socialism.

Those gushing region-watchers at Inter-American Dialogue note that Vazquez "will be inclined to take his cues" from some regional presidential brethren. There's the nutty "Lula" da Silva in Brazil from the Workers' Party (leftist), Ricardo Lagos, Chile's first socialist president in three decades and old Peronist Nestor Kirchner in Argentina.

Cuckoos of a feather govern together.

Whether you call Vazquez & Co. "pragmatists," "egalitarians" or "champions of social welfare" (as they and their compliant chroniclers are prone to do interchangeably) they remain one thing -- unabashed socialists.

Back to von Mises.

"Each worn-out label is replaced by another which raises hopes of an ultimate solution of the insoluble basic problem of socialism -- until it becomes obvious that nothing has changed but the name," he wrote.

Back in '32, the moniker became "state capitalism." Reminded von Mises: "It is not commonly realized that this covers nothing more than what used to be called 'planned economy' and 'state socialism,' and that 'state capitalism,' 'planned economy,' and 'state socialism' diverge only in nonessentials from the 'classic' idea of 'egalitarian socialism.'"

And, now, "progressivism" here and "pragmatism" south of the border.

Oh, yes indeedy, the catchwords of socialism sound enticing, von Mises notes. "(T)he people impetuously desire socialism because in their infatuation they expect it to bring full salvation and satisfy their longing for revenge."

That would be "revenge" against a capitalist system that -- largely due to a lack of enforcement of the rule of law and government misunderstanding/meddling of/in markets -- was perverted and not allowed to work.

Couple that with the general population's ignorance of fundamental economics and von Mises' 1932 warning is quite contemporary: "We stand on the brink of a precipice which threatens to engulf our civilization."

The pink tide that is sweeping over Latin America once again is lapping on America's shore. At home and abroad, we must recognize what it is and deal with it -- accordingly, swiftly and convincingly.

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