WorldThe immediate future of our region: Where is Latin...

The immediate future of our region: Where is Latin America going in 2022?

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Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, with paradoxes and a lot of potential, leaves a challenging year with several pending issues for 2022, where the keyword is uncertainty.

At some point, the area most affected by the pandemic of the coronavirusBut which now has one of the best vaccination rates, it is cautiously facing 2022, a year where there will be key elections and where the economy, now hit by omicron, will continue to avoid its recovery process.

“There is a very high uncertainty”, says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “If the pandemic passes, what is left in Latin America? Well, a very notable economic stagnation, it is said that hopefully in 2022 there will be 3% growth for the entire region, which is very little “, adds El Comercio. “And the other problem is the political one, because democracy is not going well.”

For the analyst, 2022 would follow the path of 2021 in terms of the rejection of current leaders, which will be reflected in the elections that will take place in some countries, such as Brazil and Colombia. “With the complicated economic and social conditions, there is fertile ground for more populist responses. The ‘anti-establishment’ message is growing stronger among many Latin Americans “, explica Shifter.

And, once again, COVID-19 will continue to take control of our destiny, as it has been happening for two years. This is how Silvana Amaya, senior analyst at the Control Risks consultancy, considers it. “Many were already talking about the post-pandemic, but I think that the new variants make us reflect a bit on this, and we really are still in a pandemic. There was no return to the old normality nor was there a new normality, rather it has been the arrival of a world in transition. This implies not only risks for the economic recovery but also for political instability in our countries ”.

Colombia and Brazil and the turn to the left

In 2022 there will be two key elections in South America. Colombia Y Brazil they will elect a new president, and the results could turn the map of the subcontinent redder.

In May, Colombians will seek the replacement of the unpopular right-wing Iván Duque, and the clearest options could be between Gustavo Petro, on the left, or Sergio Fajardo, who is emerging as the candidate of the center-left coalition.

The leftist leader Gustavo Petro will try again the presidency of Colombia.  (Photo: LUIS ROBAYO / AFP).

In Brazil, meanwhile, the struggle is almost sung between the president Jair Bolsonaro and his archrival, the ex-president of the left Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The far-right leader has a very faithful and mobilized electoral base that represents just over 20% of the electorate, but which, for now, would not be enough to defeat Lula, who was released from prison in 2021. Both, however, have a very high anti-vote.

Should Petro win in Colombia and Lula in Brazil, the left would be strengthened in South America, with only Ecuador and Uruguay under conservative leadership.

“The center has many options to reach the second round. In Colombia, unlike most Latin American countries, the left has never ruled because it is strongly linked to the guerrillas. Yes, it is much less likely that the right wing will reach the presidency because the country -after Duque’s presidency- is tired and has undergone a very strong stage of social protest “adds Amaya.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been the target of harsh criticism for the destruction of the Amazon during his tenure.  (Photo: Sergio LIMA / AFP)

Shifter, however, prefers to nuance the left and right labels in the region: “Lula is more likely to win in Brazil than Petro to win in Colombia, but that does not mean that Latin America is effectively moving to the left. In those countries there is a rejection of the government in office. Duque, for example, has a low level of support and Bolsonaro does too, especially due to the mismanagement of the pandemic. Many people are not enthusiastic about Lula coming back, but they would vote for him because he has a better chance of defeating Bolsonaro. So you have to qualify these situations in each country ”.

From Mexico, the international analyst Aribel Contreras considers that the shift to the left is the result of exhaustion and inequity in the distribution of wealth. “There are more and more poor people, and the pandemic greatly affected the business sector and generated more unemployment. However, it is also the result of a misrepresentation of what the neoliberal model supposes ”.

For Contreras, leftist governments blame neoliberalism for the increase in poverty. “The reason why there are more poor people is because there is more corruption, because we see more populists who abuse the deficiencies in the majority electoral base, and because there are increasingly less prepared leaders in office.”

Boric’s premiere

If we talk about the left, the recent election of Gabriel Boric in Chile It is raising expectations about what will happen in the country after one of the most polarized elections in its history.

The elected president of Chile, Gabriel Boric (right), shakes the hand of President Sebastián Piñera, during a meeting at the presidential palace of La Moneda, on December 20, 2021. (Photo: AFP).

“Many of the analysts agree that there is uncertainty because it is not very clear what the Boric government will be like. And the most important question is what role will he assume within his government, since the Boric before the first round showed a tendency much more to the left, while there was a shift towards the second round, when it approached the center-left. . Besides, he doesn’t control Congress. “Amaya says, for whom the fundamental thing will be to meet the head of the Ministry of Economy. “This is going to be key because Chile had an important economic recovery, but it is going to slow down. The election of his Minister of Finance will define how Boric will manage his government ”.

“I believe that Boric knows perfectly that to implement his agenda of fundamental reforms he will need to overcome differences and try to seek coalitions and alliances, because he does not have enough support in Congress, so to govern he needs to build consensus”, explains Shifter, who recalls that the southern country has a history of political agreements, but has recently become polarized, especially with the emergence of the candidacy of José Antonio Kast. “The test for Boric is whether it has the ability to overcome that polarization,” he adds.

Precisely, the polarization of our societies has made the extremes take hold and the leaders of the far right and far left mobilize their electoral base by telling them what they want to hear.

Aribel Contreras sums it up like this: “The world – and not just Latin America – is so polarized that it seems that there are no shades of gray, there is no longer the measure of a middle ground. Democracy is fracturing and it is autarky that is ruling. The scenario is not very hopeful for 2022 ″.

And Maduro?

The question of all the years is if, finally, Nicolas Maduro You will leave through the false door of the Miraflores Palace. The answer, however, is not what most Venezuelans expect. The fragmentation and lack of unity of the opposition has contributed to the empowerment of the president, this added to very slight improvements in the economic indexes in the oil country.

“The Venezuelan opposition lost what is called the ‘momentum’ and it will be very difficult to regain it. Maduro is doing well, especially after the regional elections where this false image of democratic participation was given ”, Amaya comments.

The leadership of the Venezuelan opposition Juan Guaidó has collapsed and does not have the same traction as some years ago.  Photographer: Carlos Becerra / Bloomberg

“If there were free elections, Maduro would be defeated. But the opposition is very fragmented, it lacks unity and strategy, and the leadership of Juan Guaidó has already collapsed “says Shifter, who points out that, despite everything, oil production has been reestablishing while Maduro continues to receive support from China, Russia, Iran and Cuba.

The situation will not be much different in Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega has taken it upon himself to imprison almost all of his opponents or force them into exile. “Nicaragua is a police state and we have not seen anything like this in the last 30 years. Ortega has shown so far that he is not going to respond to any pressure or sanction, and I do not see signs that he is willing to negotiate “says the American analyst.

In this analysis, the Salvadoran president, Nayib Bukele, who in the past year decided to officially introduce ‘bitcoin’ into the economy of the Central American country, cannot be left out. “He has an authoritarian and populist style, and has taken advantage of the enormous anger and disenchantment of the Salvadoran people towards traditional politicians. It benefits from the discredit and corruption of those parties ”, says Shifter, who points out that the danger for leaders like him is that they take advantage of their popularity to concentrate power, a practice that has become common in our region.

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