Latin America is a region which is often left out of the spotlight in global affairs. It is rough for me to admit that this is well deserved since we lag behind both Africa and Asia-Pacific when it comes to economic growth and poverty reduction. Militarily, there is not much to envy either. Nevertheless, the region´s 3 biggest countries and their respective rulers have a lot on their plates for the coming year, so I thought one article in dedication could not hurt.
We can start with one of the most talked about characters in global politics today: Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president. He is a pro-market, conservative, nationalist, populist, former military official. He is often negatively portrayed as a far-right extremist due to his pre-election rhetoric. In context, his election makes absolutely perfect sense. Brazil (not unlike the rest of the region) has had 2 worrying issues during the past decade. First, criminality has been rampant, generating deep concerns of insecurity in the general population. This fact is often exacerbated by a common trait in Latin America´s justice system: criminals just don´t seem to stay in prison. That is if they ever go. Secondly and perhaps more influential, was Brazil’s position at the centre of the biggest corruption scandal in history: Lava Jato. The scandal was so gargantuan that it splashed all around the world from the United States to Angola, implicating members of each of the last 3 governments, leading to the impeachment in 2016 of then president Dilma Rouseff, as well as the conviction of former president Lula Inácio Da Silva, both symbols of the PT, Brazil’s socialist party.
Extreme discontent leads to extreme measures, so Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and proposals resonated with the marked discontent of the Brazilian people. His actions will be under the world´s watch, although as it often happens, his actions will probably not be as radical as his speeches (see Donald Trump). Speaking of which, Bolsonaro will look to the USA as a key ally, weakening China’s recent influence in the region. Economically, he will lead a shift towards deregulation and privatization, which might just help boost Brazil’s economy, the biggest in the region. So far, the markets have reacted positively; we’ll have to see how the social fabric reacts to his stern conservatism.
In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) started his 6-year term back on December 1st. He ran on the promises of “radical change” (as it is often done nowadays, sadly), putting notable emphasis on improving the lives of the country’s poor population, which has been struck very hard by Mexico’s war on drugs, started by president Felipe Calderón in 2006, as well as being extremely unsatisfied with several corruption and conflict of interest accusations on the previous government of Enrique Peña Nieto. His election was a particular exception of the visible trend in the region of electing right-wing candidates after 10+ years of leftist dominance, but the shift was inevitable considering the dreadful mix of poverty, violence, and corruption that has been present in the country for some time already (Mexico has not had a leftist government in decades). AMLO’s administration, and in particular his first year, will be under close scrutiny since he has to balance his social policies with the maintenance of positive signals for markets and investors. He has had a rocky start, as his decision to suspend the construction of Mexico City’s new airport, financed through bond issuance, sent worrying signs to investors, resulting in a drop in the Mexican Peso and market. Additionally, AMLO has the task of representing the capacity of the Latin American left, which has suffered a loss of credibility due to mismanagement, corruption scandals, and the repression perpetrated by governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua, not to mention the dictatorship in Cuba. As Bolsonaro leads the charge on the side of the right, AMLO will stand up straight to his left.
Honourable (or dishonourable) mention has to go to Argentina, whose citizens will be going to the polls in October for presidential and parliamentary elections. Mauricio Macri’s government has so far failed to deliver on his promises of economic liberalism, opting instead for a policy of gradualism which has had severe negative effects for the country, perpetuating the ailments of the past. After 13 years of Kirchner governments, Argentina’s economy relies heavily on a bloated public sector and expenditure. This, combined with Macri’s ineffective policies, has resulted in Argentina presenting negative growth statistics and a severely devalued Argentinian Peso. 2019 could mark the return towards so-called Kirchnerism unless the incumbent can convince the electorate of radical change for the next term. Perhaps Macri could start putting efforts into implementing the actual campaign promises he ran on. Otherwise, it would be odd for his party, called Cambiemos (“let’s change”), to continue leading Argentina down the same old path.
Latin America’s history has been filled with political turmoil, more often than not caused by the tremendous mismanagement of resources, in conjunction with systemic corruption. Unlike East Asia, for example, a region that has grown enormously over the past decades, becoming a centre for production, innovation, and growth, Latin America has loomed in the shadows. The concept of New Year’s resolutions has never been as fitting as it is now for the region, its governments, and its citizens. Progress doesn’t always necessarily start from the top, but in this case, the top has to start pulling through for everyone to rally.