Michael Barone

The big question mark, however, is Mexico. Vicente Fox's victory in 2000 ended the 71-year rule of the PRI party, but Fox has had a disappointing record. He squandered the momentum of his first year by seeking a settlement with the theatrical Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, and has been unable to get repeal of the laws that prevent foreign investment in Mexico's rotting oil-producing infrastructure.

Mexico's Congress, previously a PRI rubber stamp and now split between three parties, has had difficulty being a functional legislature. Mexico's economy, yoked to the United States by NAFTA, is growing, but not so rapidly as to reduce northward immigration. The big threat here is former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left-wing PRD candidate who has been leading in the polls for the July election. As mayor, Lopez Obrador showed little respect for property rights. But he is supported, perhaps as an insurance measure, by billionaire Carlos Slim. And his lead has diminished after PAN candidate Felipe Calderon began running ads warning that he could be another Hugo Chavez.

Left-wing populism is evidently not a selling point, even in Mexico, with its tradition of anti-yanqui rhetoric.

It's a mixed picture, and one with real dangers, especially if Lopez Obrador wins and turns out to be more like Chavez than like Lula. But it's also one with genuine upsides, notably the emergence of a responsible center-left tradition.

The Washington Consensus still has more life than a focus on Chavez would suggest, and Latin America is enjoying 4 percent economic growth. So be prepared for disappointments, but remember that we still have many good neighbors to the south.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM