February 15, 2006

After axis of evil, Latin left hails “axis of good”

By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - The anti-U.S. campaign rhetoric
is fading out of public statements by the new Bolivian
government but its long-term ambition is alive and well: a new
leftist movement known as "Evism" as part of an "axis of good"
-- Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba.

"Evism" comes from Evo Morales, the first name of the
Aymara Indian who won Bolivia's presidency after a campaign in
which he described himself as a nightmare for the U.S. Evism
joins "Fidelism" (after Cuba's Fidel Castro) and "Chavism"
(after Venezuela's Hugo Chavez) on the list of Latin American

The phrase "axis of good" emerged from a meeting between
the left-wing troika before Morales was sworn into office. It
was meant to make a counter-point to U.S. President George W.
Bush's characterization, four years ago of Iraq , Iran and
North Korea as an axis of evil.

The new term swiftly entered the vocabulary of university
students and the rank-and-file of Morales's Movement Toward
Socialism (MAS) party. The three leaders were equally swift in
strengthening the rhetorical axis with agreements ranging from
energy to education.

Two of them echoed accords between Cuba and Venezuela. They
provided for Cuban doctors to set up health clinics in Bolivia
and for Cuban teachers to wipe out illiteracy. According to the
education ministry, this would turn into reality a dream by
Ernesto Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary who was killed in
Bolivia in 1967.

Another agreement, barely noticed outside Bolivia, provided
for Venezuelan aid to set up community radio stations
throughout Bolivia to broadcast in native languages.

"A perfect vehicle to promote an ideology, if that's what
the government wants," said a Latin American diplomat here.

So far, the government's vision is not clearly defined.
"What is emerging here is Evism, a continental strategy in
favor of the humble people," Vice President Alvaro Garcia told
a recent rally.

A sociologist and former guerrilla leader, Garcia is widely
seen as the intellectual driving force of the cabinet.

In the eyes of the United States, the main donor of aid to
Bolivia, Morales could do few things worse than deepen an
alliance with Chavez and Castro. While the U.S. has been
cautious in dealing with the new Bolivian leader, U.S.
relations with Chavez are increasingly hostile and with Cuba


Ironically, the careers of all three have benefited from
American hostility.

In 2002, Morales credited then U.S. ambassador, Manuel
Rocha -- who criticized the Indian candidate -- with having
helped MAS shoot from low single digits in the presidential
polls to more than 20 percent, just a shade under the party
that won.

"Every statement (Rocha) made against us helped us to grow
and awaken the conscience of the people," Morales said at the

Chavez's electoral fortunes were boosted in a similar way
in 1998, when polls put his support at between three and four
percent. The numbers began shooting up after the U.S. denied
him a visa and he began incorporating that fact into his

Holding aloft a Visa credit card, he would tell cheering
crowds that "this is the only visa I need," not the visa the
U.S. denied him. He won the elections.

As to Castro, the third member of the "axis of good," many
analysts feel that he would not have survived as a thorn in the
side of nine U.S. presidents if he had not been able to blame
his country's economic woes on a U.S. embargo imposed in 1962.

Year after year, resolutions to lift the embargo are put to
the vote at the United Nations General assembly and year after
year, those in favor are in an overwhelming majority.


Critics of U.S. policies on Latin America cite such moves
as proof that Washington tends to be clumsy and tone-deaf in
dealing with its own backyard - and some say the present
administration has been particularly inept.

"They go after their left-wing targets with a vengeance but
in doing so, they are fouling the political waters throughout
Latin America," said Larry Birns, director of the Washington
Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a liberal think tank. "These
days, whatever the administration touches in the region turns
to stone."

Conciliatory notes in Washington's initial dealings with
Bolivia appear to stem from a policy revision in the wake of
last November's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Bush
failed to win agreement on a free trade zone from Canada to
Chile and tens of thousands took to the streets in anti-Bush

After the summit, U.S. officials began talking of a battle
of ideas in Latin America they needed to wage in Latin America.

"The State Department is undergoing a major review and
there is a new posture, to win hearts and minds," said Moises
Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a former Venezuelan
trade minister. "And while that happens, Congress votes to
build a wall along the border with Mexico. One move makes the
other moot."