Latin America’s left relieved after election

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The front page of a Venezuelan newspaper features a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama with a headline reading in Spanish, “Obama: I won!” at a newsstand in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday.
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — From Caracas to Havana to La Paz, President Barack Obama’s re-election victory was welcomed with a sigh of relief by many on Latin America’s left, though others cautioned that the U.S. leader had not made the region a priority during his crisis-buffeted first term and was unlikely to do so in a second.

In Cuba, state-run news website CubaSi called the outcome a victory for the lesser of two evils, saying: “U.S. elections: the worst one did not win.”

“The news of Barack Obama’s triumph in yesterday’s general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism,” CubaSi wrote.

On the streets of Caracas, some said they worried that a Romney win would have brought a much harder line against leftist leaders such as their own President Hugo Chavez, and that they hoped another four-year term for Obama would bring relatively peaceful U.S.-Latin American ties.

“The other guy would have cut off relations with Venezuela,” said Cesar Echezuria, a street vendor selling newspapers emblazoned with front-page photos of Obama celebrating. “It would have been a disaster for Venezuela if Obama had lost.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has not commented since Tuesday’s vote, but he raised eyebrows during the campaign when he said that if he were an American, he’d cast his ballot for Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Despite years of strained relations between Chavez and Washington, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.

President Raul Castro’s government is also often critical of the American president, but under a Romney administration it might have faced unwelcome rollbacks of Obama policies that relaxed restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances and increased cultural exchanges.
The U.S. remains the top trading partner of many countries in the region, with exceptions including Brazil and Chile, where China has recently taken its place.

During the presidential debates, Romney had called Latin America a “huge opportunity” for the U.S. economically. The region, however, was far from a hot topic in the election and seldom garnered mentions by the candidates — although one pro-Romney television ad in Florida had played up Chavez’s pro-Obama comments.

Ahead of the vote, some commentators in Latin America had groused that Obama and Romney were so similar in foreign policy stances that the result didn’t matter much. A recent front-page cartoon in Argentina’s Pagina12 newspaper summed up such complaints, showing a conversation between two bearded men. One remarked: “What difference is there between Republicans and Democrats?” The other answered: “Both bomb you, but the Democrats afterward feel just a little bit bad about it.”