Latin America: A Burning Continent Again?

The latest wave of socio-political turmoil to hit certain countries in South America partly evokes a term used by Soviet foreign policy commentators in the 1970s and 1980s to describe the region: the “burning continent.” However, the recent events that we’ve observed in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia really raise the question of political stability in Latin America, and whether the governments affected by this “political storm” can remain in power. I believe it’s inadvisable to take a definitive position here, if only because those in power (for example, in Chile and Ecuador), risk being voted out of office in the medium-term.

For all the varying specifics of the current protests (suffice it to say that the objects of the opposition’s attacks are the conservatives in Chile, the left-wing anti-neoliberal forces in Bolivia, and Lenin Moreno in Ecuador, a renegade former leftist who is now better thought of as a social liberal). We can highlight common elements: a visible deficit of democracy, the presence of a powerful social and political opposition capable of creating a wave of protests, the authorities’ willingness to combine repressive response mechanisms with proposals for political dialogue, and a very high degree of politicisation in society. It should be noted that according to economic indicators, most countries affected by crises seem to be experiencing economic growth ...

Again, we should keep in mind that in each country, the protests are based on internal forces which have different foreign policy preferences. So, if in Bolivia the shadow of US-oriented patronage looms behind the “right-autonomous” opposition, in Ecuador the association of Native American organisations has a clearly radical left profile and, accordingly, belongs to the anti-US segment of the Ecuadorian socio-political paradigm. But the “common denominator” here is that in none of these cases were the authorities able to fully solve the serious socio-political challenges that their countries face.

The question of who will ultimately benefit is unlikely to have a clear answer. Last year, against the backdrop of a far-reaching socio-political crisis in Brazil, the openly far-right politician Bolsonaro came to power. However, in South America’s second most prominent country, Argentina, a deep social and financial crisis has facilitated the rise to power of those opposing the current neoliberal president, Mauricio Macri. But we can hardly talk about some new “left” cycle in Latin America. The difficult situation in Bolivia and the possibility of the left-wing government losing power in Uruguay underscores that everything is very complicated. But there is no doubt that the general situation in Latin America will remain unstable for a long time.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.