A Latin American Autumn? Political Perspectives for 2020 BY PEDRO GRATEROL
The end of 2019 was turbulent for Latin American politics. Protests and elections all throughout the continent have placed the region in the global spotlight. Over the last nine months, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador have exploded in historical protests. Evo Morales abandoned the Bolivian presidency after weeks of protests and a doubtful election. Furthermore, Argentina made a surprising ideological shift with the election of Alberto Fernández.
It is tempting to talk about a “Latin American Autumn”, making a reference to the protests in the Middle East 10 years ago. Yet, we must be careful to talk about these protests in a single block. These are protests that rhyme, but are not directly connected. Our countries have very complex political contexts and finding direct connections is difficult. However, it is important to recognize that there are themes that connect them.
In moments of tension, just like the one we are living now, it is possible to see the pillars of the political debates that determine the individual context of each country. Understanding these pillars is essential to analyze the possible political scenarios. Then, I consider it pertinent to analyze three of them. These are not all the pillars that dictate the politics of the region, but it is a good way to start.
The first of these is the response to neoliberalism. Ever since the end of the 80’s, many countries in the region have implemented economic restructuring to integrate to the international market. These included the elimination of tariffs and subsidies. In a way, this model was effective; it led to development in countries like Chile. However, it increased economic inequality, which was a key factor to the current protests in Ecuador and Chile and will be relevant in the coming months as the protests continue.
The second factor is praetorianism, or the powerful influence of the Armed Forces in politics. The transition that is happening in Bolivia was not only the result of weeks of protests. The decision of the Armed Forces to request Morales’ resignation was key for his departure from power. Similarly, military support is what keeps Maduro’s power in Venezuela and what saved Vizcarra’s presidency in Perú. The Armed Forces has a fundamental role in the politics of our countries and their opinion on the occurring events is decisive for any outcome.
The last trend is political discontent. The political navigation of Colombia’s Duque after the FARC peace deal has not been popular and led to massive protests. Similarly, the rejection of Macri’s austerity policies in Argentina was key for Fernández’s election. Also, the fact that so many protests are happening is a signal that discontent with the political order is an existing variable that needs to be considered, because it can have political consequences. Our countries are complex, each with their unique historical, economic and political factors. However, knowing these variables makes it easy to analyze the events and questions that will come as the region gets ready for the emerging political panorama.
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