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A Choice in South America

January 28, 2003

In a hateful message driven by anger, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Sunday called on the ideologically faithful (detractors call them the globalifobicos) to bury capitalism.

As Chavez spoke at the World Social Forum in Brazil, on the other side of the Atlantic -- at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland -- hundreds of the world's most powerful and, no doubt, well-fed business leaders and politicians heard another leftist's plea for the poor. "Hunger," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said, "cannot wait." And he called on the Group of 7 industrialized nations and international investors to create a new agenda of shared global development and an international anti-poverty fund.

It was more than altruism that made people cheer so heartily at the gatherings. Lula and Chavez are two in the latest wave of Latin American leftists voted into office by those willing to take desperate measures to solve the seemingly intractable problems of hunger, poverty, inequality and injustice.

Both have sworn that they will lead their countries in ways that make life better for the common man and woman. Lula has presented a responsible plan to mitigate social ills. Chavez wants to replicate Fidel Castro's Cuba across the hemisphere.

The choice for the G7 is clear. If its power brokers fail to embrace the up-and-coming South America left as represented by Lula, the continent could be lost to demagogues like Chavez.

Lula isn't asking for handouts. He understands that the continent's only way out of misery is to push ahead with economic, commercial, social and political integration with richer nations.

Just getting new loans from international lending agencies to pay the old loans won't solve the problem, said Lula. "Free trade, but free trade marked by reciprocity" is what could bring prosperity to underdeveloped countries, for trade opens the path to economic stability.

Lula has also called on banks and investors to exercise greater restraint. Capital, the Brazilian leader warned, now "moves about the world following simple rumors and subjective speculation." More discipline could thwart the sort of economic pandemonium too often triggered by gossip about, say, a pending currency devaluation in Latin America.

Lula has been in power for less than a month and has vowed to control inflation by limiting deficits; to pay Brazil's debt; to streamline the country's pension system; to reform the nation's labor laws, and to fight hard against corruption. So far, it looks as if Lula is the kind of man with whom the Western world can and should do business.

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