Sebastián Piñera will be Chile's next president. He has won a clear victory over Eduardo Frei, who was unable to build on the performance of his predecessor Michelle Bachelet and her government, whose popularity hovers around 80%.
Don't expect big changes in the country's policy, however. Chile has become dreadfully serious over the last two decades, which means that its domestic and international policies hover around centrist policies, just as they do in most developed democracies. This makes for boring politics, with marginally meaningful party alternance the only game in town. But boring politics is the privilege of the wealthy. Think of Canada...
In the region as a whole, there is more in the offing. Next month, Costa Rica will have elections that no one will talk about, because they will largely be inconsequential. If Uribe does not run in the May elections in Colombia (and time is running out to change the constitution and enable him to do it), a less conservative politician take could well take over the country's presidency, with not much of a change in public policy, even on security. While nothing is settled yet, Brazil will probably also elect a more liberal president than Lula next October, once again with few substantive policy changes in sight. In all those countries, the economy is stable, inflation is low, poverty is declining, as are homicides and kidnappings.
Compare this with the recent referendums and elections in Honduras, Nicaragua (municipal) or Venezuela (on the Constitution) where politics is indeed most interesting, where inflation is high, growth prospects are bad, crime is rising and poverty increasing. Compare this also to Argentina, which is teetering on the brink of a constitutional crisis and where a lot of nasty things could happen between now and 2011, when the term of Cristina Fernandes de Kirchner ends.
The big division of the continent is not between Right and Left, but between boring but serious regimes, and lively but irresponsible ones, where wild things can happen at any time.
My hunch is, most Latin Americans would take the bore...
[I just found out that Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, in DC, has a similar take on the meaning of that election and those that are coming up.