The "moderately-pink" Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, and the "radically red" Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, could both be branded simply "red," but this would affect the precision of the analysis.
There is a general trend that explains, if only partly, why Latin Americans have started going red. It began when the Untied States, euphoric over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, redirected its attention to the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, invaded Iraq and started spreading democracy to Afghanistan.
This is not the region's first "red period," but this time it has come about without Soviet or Cuban involvement, because the Soviet Union is no more and Cuba is trying to figure out its future now that Fidel is on his deathbed.
Each of the nominally left-wing countries - Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua - have turned different shades of red, but all of them for the same reason. Internal factors have had their effect, but external elements have prevailed. Latin America's current leftward drift is a response to the regional policy of the U.S. and multinational corporations, which have never taken into account local interests.
Other potential members of the "red" group are Cuba, half of Peru (a left-wing candidate almost won the presidential election there), and possibly Mexico, which is still split in two by the results of its last election. Left-wing parties lost the elections in Peru and Mexico by a very narrow margin, but won a landslide victory in Venezuela.
The biggest question now is: What will come of it? Nothing much, I'd say. There are several reasons why the region will not become "socialist," even if an exuberant Hugo Chavez did promise a new era of socialism after his election victory.
First, it is not Maoists, Trotskyites or Bolsheviks who are marching under red banners in Latin America, but those who want a real rather than phantom sovereignty and a socially oriented economy, and who want to stop the plunder of their natural resources and brazen U.S. interference in their internal affairs.
They don't demand the abolition of private property or the "expropriation of the expropriators." Besides, the banners are mostly carried by old folk and youngsters, and the latter's goal is simply to shock the public with their audacious behavior. These are not diehard Marxists.
Their slogans repeat old Bolivarian ideas of fighting for sovereignty and against poverty, although they have been rephrased since the early 19th century. Hugo Chavez, the most radical of the region's leaders, refers to Simon Bolivar rather than Karl Marx, and Cuba has apparently been drifting away from Marxism-Leninism and towards Bolivar and Jose Marti since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Latin American "red revolutionary battalion" is marching towards its goal on the left side of the road, but this is its own choice. No attempt has been made so far to move off the capitalist track, and I don't think this will happen unless the U.S. makes the serious mistake of trying to interfere with this left-wing/capitalist march. If it does, Chavez will most likely embrace communism, just as Fidel Castro did when the U.S. refused to see his point.
The second reason not to take Latin America's red period too seriously is the traditional disunity of the region. Every country in the region has big or small problems with its neighbors that undermine trust and provoke border clashes in the rain forest, where no borders have been marked. Venezuela and Cuba are the closest allies in the region, but they are divided by the Caribbean Sea. I shudder to think what problems they would have if they were located next to each other.
Bolivar is rumored to have kept whispering one word, "unity," on his deathbed. He knew what he was talking about. Constant quarrels and disputes in the region prevented the general from establishing the United States of Latin America, which could have warded off faraway Spain and the much closer United States, whose ambitions were becoming apparent even then.
The U.S. will rely on its remaining allies in the region to prevent Bolivar's dream from coming true. But there are other factors at play. Washington has failed to act on time, and its rivals are now strengthening their standing in its traditional "underbelly." I am referring to such strong competitors as China, the European Union, Canada and Russia (the latter is restoring ties with Cuba and actively cooperating with Venezuela).
In short, Latin America will never become fully socialist, but it will do its best to gain more independence from the United States.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.