The main conclusion one can draw from recent history is that, after the end of the Cold War, the region emerged as the target of great power politics in a world of increasing animosity, writes Valdai Club expert Fabiano Mielniczuk. In the future, 2019 may be remembered as the turning point that marked the beginning of a long period of violence and instability in South America.
The bright period of stability and peace enjoyed by South American countries during the 2000s is gone. The leftist wave that swept the region and brought economic growth, income distribution and assured popular support for the parties in power is over.
The causes of the prosperity in the last decade are well-known: leftist governments were elected due to the discontent of the poorest with the negative effects of the neoliberal agenda advanced in the 1990s. Once elected, they benefited from the increase in prices of commodities propelled by China’s growth entering in a virtuous cycle of redistributive policies and popular support. However, China is not the only external factor behind the times of bonanza. This period coincides with the neglect of the region by the US, focused on expanding NATO in Europe and fighting the threat of Global Terrorism through a series of disastrous interventions in the Middle East and North Africa – not to mention the sponsoring of color revolutions in the space of the former Soviet Union. Russia, in turn, was recovering from the devastating decade of the 1990s and its involvement within the region was timid, but steadily improving in the second half of 2000s.
For the reader familiar with the recent crisis in the region, however, this is a very partial narrative. 2019 has also been a year of violent protests against the new US-aligned governments that took office after the demise of the left. In Argentina, Macri faced social unrest during all his term and lost the bid for his reelection to a left-wing candidate. In Peru, a very serious political crisis emerged when the right-wing president dissolved the parliament and the latter dismissed the former. The military solved the impasse by siding with the president, but the future of the country is uncertain. In Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, former leftist and the newest western ally, faced the upheaval of the indigenous peoples against his economic policies and the future of his presidency is also at risk. Piñera, in Chile, was forced to call a National Constituent Assembly after millions of Chileans went to the streets to protest against increases in public transportation fees and the cost of life – demonstrations that resulted in 20 deaths and hundreds injured by the police repression. Like the leftist countries, these countries are very diverse and do not have much in common despite the fact that, in the ebb and flow of South American political spectrum, they tended to align with the US recently.