Pro Trade, Pro U.S.

Just three years ago the smart money was on a sea change in Latin American politics. A dozen countries had held presidential elections, and in contest after contest, politicians and parties on the left came out on top, with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez beating the drum of Bolivarian revolution. The results seemed to signal the end of the Washington Consensus and a decade's worth of gringo-sponsored free-market reforms in the hemisphere. Now, in the face of an economic downturn one might expect a further turn to leftist populism. But an exclusive Poder/NEWSWEEK/ Zogby survey suggests that at least among Latin Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, the opposite is true. For all the lather over capitalism run amok, 63 percent of young Latin Americans surveyed believe that free trade is not just good but "benefits all people." What's more, the young Latin Americans say the leaders best-suited to guide their countries into the future are people like Barack Obama, who achieved a 91 percent favorability rating among those surveyed, and Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a onetime leftist who has generally toed the free-market line since taking office in 2003. By contrast, they said those worst-suited to guide their country were people like Chávez acolyte Evo Morales of Bolivia and Chávez himself, who was considered by three-quarters of those polled to be "a dictator" or "a dictator in the making."

The results of the survey bode well for the new management in Washington, which has declared as its diplomatic mission the caulking of "broken" relations with the rest of the globe. Despite eight years under the influence of the unloved (and, to Chávez, the "sulphurous") George W. Bush, more than half of those surveyed have positive views of the U.S., and are looking for Obama to take a more active role in the region. Most young Latin Americans think it's high time the U.S. lifted, or at least softened, the embargo against Cuba, which is older than they are. A strong majority want America to reach out to Venezuela, and, surprisingly, almost 40 percent of those surveyed say America should intervene, even militarily, to help Mexico as it struggles against violence.

Of course, all this may not mean the battle for Latin American hearts and minds has been decided. Many Latins are reflexively suspicious of Yankee designs. But "anti-Americanism is a mile wide and an inch deep in Latin America," says Donna Hrinak, a former ambassador to Brazil and Venezuela. And at least there are signs that the tired old shibboleths from another generation may be close to retiring.