Think there's no alternative? Latin America has a few

Not only have leaders from Ecuador to Venezuela delivered huge social gains - they keep winning elections too, says SEUMAS MILNE

Ever since the crash of 2008 exposed the rotten core of a failed economic model, we've been told there are no viable alternatives. As Europe sinks deeper into austerity, governing parties of whatever stripe are routinely rejected by disillusioned voters - only to be replaced by others delivering more welfare cuts, privatisation and inequality.  So what should we make of a part of the world where governments have resolutely turned their back on that model, slashed poverty and inequality, taken back industries and resources from corporate control, massively expanded public services and democratic participation - and keep getting re-elected in fiercely contested elections? That is what has been happening in Latin America for a decade. The latest political leader to underline the trend is the radical economist Rafael Correa, re-elected as president of Ecuador at the weekend with an increased 57 percent share of the vote, while Correa's party won an outright majority in parliament. 

But Ecuador is now part of a well-established pattern. Last October the much reviled but hugely popular Hugo Chavez, who returned home on Monday after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, was re-elected president of Venezuela with 55 percent of the vote after 14 years in power in a ballot far more fraud-proof than those in Britain or the US. That followed the re-election of Bolivia's Evo Morales, Latin America's first indigenous president, in 2009; the election of Lula's nominated successor Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in 2010; and of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina in 2011. Despite their differences, it's not hard to see why. Latin America was the first to experience the disastrous impact of neoliberal dogma and the first to revolt against it. Correa was originally elected in the wake of an economic collapse so devastating that one in 10 left the country. Since then his "citizen's revolution" has cut poverty by nearly a third and extreme poverty by 45 percent. Unemployment has been slashed, while social security, free health and education have been rapidly expanded - including free higher education, now a constitutional right - while outsourcing has been outlawed.

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