Dissatisfaction defines LatAm democracies
Dec. 23, 2022
A major Latin American trend in recent years has been citizen dissatisfaction. Anger provoked by economic inequality, reverses in social mobility, frustration with widespread corruption, and demands for better social services have fueled massive street protests and, over the past two years, a swing towards leftist governments.
The region’s political swing responds both to ideology, and in large measure, to an anti-incumbent sentiment that has also fueled outsider candidates with mixed (and muddled) policy agendas.
Political polarization, hardly an exclusively Latin American ill, has complicated political solutions, particularly in a negative economic context. Polarization has contributed to a declining faith in democracy across the region, and threatens to further undermine democratic governance. Groups of Bolsonaro supporters in Brazil refuse to accept Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s October victory and instead call for a coup. And in Peru years of political gridlock and entrenched corruption, and anger at a disloyal political elite, have spilled out into deadly protests after an attempted coup and subsequent ouster of Pedro Castillo.
While Latin America is a strongly democratic region, backsliding in several countries, particularly El Salvador, is cause for concern. In several countries, states of emergency responding to insecurity have been used to justify suspending constitutional guarantees and to deploy armed forces on the streets.
From Argentina and Chile up to Mexico, the region’s largest countries are governed by leftists, though the spectrum from Gabriel Boric to Andrés Manuel López Obrador is wide, and there is hardly a hegemonic stance. It remains to be seen whether Lula can guide a unified regional approach, as he has promised to seek, and what that would mean.
A United States governed by Biden could be a cooperative counterpart for the region: Venezuela’s recently restarted political negotiations will be an early test of a push for engagement with Nicolás Maduro’s government, particularly for Gustavo Petro and Lula. The new left’s focus on environmental concerns and the potential of green transitions — particularly given the need for a transnational approach to conservation — is a hopeful note moving forward.
Polarization has complicated efforts to implement needed political and constitutional reforms in many countries. On this issue, Chile is perhaps the most realistically optimistic example: Chilean politicians agreed to a magna carta rewrite in 2019, in response to massive social unrest, epitomizing the dissatisfaction that now characterizes much of the region’s politics. An elected constituent assembly, with its fair share of controversy, made a radically progressive proposal that was rejected by a majority of Chilean voters. Nonetheless, most Chileans would still like to see their dictatorship-era constitution replaced, and this month politicians have agreed on a way forward for a new constitutional convention.
If the process is successful, Chile will have a new constitution within a year. Either way, the bumpy process, with advances and reverses, is a testament to good will, cooperation, creativity and iteration required of Latin American democracies moving forward, if they are to survive the crisis of dissatisfaction that currently threatens them.
Venezuela’s parallel national assembly voted to disband the country’s dissident government led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The group of lawmakers, whose mandate ended two years ago but who argue they are the country’s last legitimately elected representatives, seek greater unity ahead of possible national elections in 2024, the objective of current negotiations between Venezuela’s Maduro government and the political opposition. (Efecto Cocuyo, New York Times, Reuters)
If the vote is ratified on Dec. 29, opposition lawmakers will then choose five representatives for the board of directors that will head assets held abroad, and Guaido's interim presidency, along with his government, will be removed. (Efecto Cocuyo, New York Times, Reuters)
InSight Crime's Criminal GameChangers 2022 highlights the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas, from “pink cocaine” to cross-border battles.
At least two people have died and more than 400 houses have burned in a massive wildfire around Chile’s Viña del Mar. President Gabriel Boric decreed a state of catastrophe and said in a tweet that authorities were prioritizing people’s safety. (Washington Post, Reuters)
In the midst of Peru’s political chaos, lawmakers are quietly trying to pass a bill into law that would strip “uncontacted” Indigenous people of protection and dismantle existing reserves created for them, reports the Guardian.
The World Bank’s board of directors approved a $500 million project in Brazil to expand sustainability-linked finance and strengthen the private sector’s capacity to access carbon credit markets and help the country curb deforestation, reports Reuters.
Brazilian public services face a “very real threat of collapse” due to the outgoing Bolsonaro administration’s mismanagement, according to president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He said the incoming administration will have a “herculean task” in rebuilding damaged institutions, particularly in the fields of health, education and the environment, reports the Guardian.
Gun ownership has increased, and homicides have gone down in Brazil. But experts say the two trends are not correlated. Rather the drop in murders has more to do with organized-crime trends, investment in policing and demographics, reports the Washington Post.
Lionel Messi’s Instagram post celebrating Argentina’s World Cup victory is currently the platform’s most-liked ever. Its nearly 70 million likes overwhelmed that of the previous record-holder — a photograph of an egg, with just under 58 million likes. (Washington Post)
The Latin America Daily Briefing will be off for the holidays next week. I’ll be back on Jan. 2. Wishing you all an excellent start to 2023.