Latin American Populists Downgraded

Free-market capitalism or "21st century" socialism? Ever since Hugo Chávez began flogging his "Bolivarian revolution," the battle for Latin America's hearts and minds has been lively. Now it may be over. As global demand tanks for raw materials like iron ore, copper and oil, Latin America has been badly battered. But a new report by Fitch Ratings shows few nations have been hit as hard by the downturn as Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina, where broadsides against neoliberalism have been staple fare. Fitch downgraded all three countries, which already held junk-rated debt; Argentina and Ecuador fell into partial default territory. With their coffers flush from the commodities boom, Chávez and Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could afford to bloat their bureaucracies and bully businesses. But now that the bubble has burst, populist leaders are facing rising prices, falling revenues and angry citizens. Foreign investors and lenders have fled. There are some wars that can't be won from a balcony.

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