According to Lyons, Correa’s backtracking has put him about even with Noboa in the polls, and a Correa victory would not amount to a ratification of his radical policies. ~Michael Barone

Returns indicate that a clear majority of Ecuador’s voters have chosen Correa. In Nicaragua, a majority clearly voted against Daniel Ortega, but his plurality was still a win, and thus there are two more victories by friends of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. ~Marc Klugmann

Barone’s thesis is that the Chavismo/populist wave has crested and has started to recede.  According to this view, the populists have had to campaign on less radical platforms and therefore, we are being told, the advance of Chavez’s allies is not really a win for Chavez.  This is an interesting view to take just six months after Mr. Barone was warning about threats to the Washington Consensus (as he calls it) in Latin America.  Essentially, Barone’s “good” news for fans of the Washington Consensus is that more Latin Americans are choosing “responsible” leftists such as, say, Alan Garcia in Peru, not crazy far-out leftists such as Evo Morales. 

But Mr. Klugmann’s interpretation of the election results seems to me to carry a little more weight, at least in the symbolic significance of these latest victories.  Election victories are election victories–it will not matter how the candidates campaigned, but it will matter how they govern.  That Daniel Ortega could make a comeback in Nicaragua is remarkable in itself; if he is going to be very friendly with Chavez, and we would have every reason to believe that he will be, his victory takes on added significance.  Correa’s victory in Ecuador marks another advance for the new populism.  

None of this is to paint dire pictures of Chavista dominion spreading over the earth, which is a silly view to take, but to recognise that the trends in Latin America are still extremely unfavourable to anything that even remotely looks like neoliberalism.  Chavez’s influence continues to expand, as Klugmman rightly notes:

Despite the claims of a few pundits that the influence of Chavez is in decline, it is Washington’s policy in Latin America that is more obviously in trouble. Much has been made of the fact that Chavez was unsuccessful in his recent bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Yet Chavez has shown significant strength in this hemisphere, moving beyond his base of Cuba and Bolivia to win the support of MERCOSUR (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and the CARICOM (the Caribbean nations). An interesting indicator of the situation in Latin America is that the moderate leftist government in Chile, unwilling to oppose Chavez, rejected U.S. lobbying and abstained from the U.N. vote.

The non-Chavez center-left political leaders, Lula and Bachelet, may be more cooperative with the U.S. than Morales and Chavez, but there is no doubt that the political direction of our neighbours to the south continues to go in this generally populist and pro-Chavez direction at a fairly fast clip.  This is not some dark and forbidding threat, but it is a reality that the U.S. will have to take account of and one to which Washington will have to adjust.