Watch for increased socialism in Latin America

Despite the political change that just swept Venezuela — which may indicate a decrease in the promotion of socialism from that country — a more powerful influence for Latin American socialism just arose in Rome. Today Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, a name he chose after a Saint known for his asceticism. While socially conservative (e.g., on abortion and gay rights), Cardinal Bergoglio was known to eschew the luxuries of his station for a simple life that included modest quarters, self-cooked meals, and hailing the bus in Buenos Aires. His sermons suggest great sympathy for social justice and the poor, and he comes from Latin America  (Washington Post).

Bergoglia’s reputed historical links to 1970s fascism in Argentina, and his political astuteness, means that he wants to prove otherwise. Regardless of his true feelings, it will be hard for him not to play to his massive constituency of poor Catholics in Latin America — the greatest number of Catholics worldwide. Nearly all of Latin America’s poor will be looking to him to address their plight. Regardless of the position he takes on poverty in the future, the lay Catholic ministry in Latin America, and political entrepreneurs farther up the hierarchy, will gain favor among their largely overlapping constituencies for presenting the new Pope as supportive of socialist endeavors. This points to a revival of the liberation theology of the 1980s, and a greater probability of socialist-inspired coups, revolutions, debt defaults, and nationalizations — especially in Latin America.

Death of Hugo Chavez

With the death of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela today, expect increased political stability in Latin America. President Chavez was an activist in international politics, encouraging ideological conflict of the anti-Western and anti-market variety. He used his country’s oil wealth to magnify his voice and achieve these ends. Investments in Venezuela and Latin America will be safer without Chavez.

Concerns that his likely successor, Mr. Maduro, will be more radical (Wall Street Journal) are almost certainly overblown. Mr. Maduro’s comments on foreign influence in the country, and his expulsion of two US diplomats, are likely meant to solidify political support among Chavez supporters. This is a short-term political strategy on the part of Mr. Maduro, without long-term effect on the Venezuelan investment environment.