The protests that have rocked Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile over the past few months may vary in origin and focus, but they are unfolding in a general regional context. Chile and Ecuador are notable for showing symptoms of growing regional social discontent with policies pursued by the “new right” in Latin America; in contrast, events in Bolivia are more likely a reflection of the wealthy middle strata growing tired of the existing regime’s continuity.
Bolivia is one of the “left turn” countries with the best socio-economic indicators in the region. In recent years, there has been a steady increase in GDP; manufacturing is growing; the export of natural gas is stable; and lithium ore reserves are being successfully developed. A favorable macroeconomic situation stimulates investment. Compared with most Latin American countries, Bolivia has seen a decrease in poverty. The country is historically decentralized; controversy over land and subsoil not only divide the Indian West and the “white” East, but also the departments in the west where separatist sentiments are still strong.
Having reinstated the subsidies, CONAIE still continues to oppose Correa and his supporters, who also supported the protests and were thereby subjected to repressions from the authorities. The split of the protest camp and the general alignment of forces make the outcome of events difficult to predict. In the late 1990s - early 2000s, mass protests against neoliberal reforms overthrew several presidents. However, military and security forces have been widely involved in curbing the current protests. Attempts to create parallel armies and groups, something CONAIE is contemplating, have more than once prodded the military to coups in Latin America. If the worst case scenario can be avoided, the right-wingers can win the 2021 election.
Chile, with a media-supported reputation as an economically successful and politically stable country, still carries the burden of the 1973 coup. The constitution imposed by Pinochet limits the capabilities of all political forces, except the two alternating power blocs. The global fluctuations of copper prices and the US trade war with China have greatly damaged the economy; this apparently prompting Sebastian Pinera’s rightist government to accept the requirements of international financial institutions, in particular, to raise public transport fares giving rise to protests. The prior college and high school student protests over the privatization policy in education and healthcare also contributed to the current surge of discontent. The example of Ecuador could have amplified both the unrest and the response from the authorities that widely involved the army. The wave of protests roused trade unions, which immediately declared a general strike. Protesters demand the removal of the military from the streets, a change in the economic course, and the adoption of a new constitution.
Yet, these conflicts become potentially dangerous due to the current international situation – the Lima Group (countries with right pro-American governments) pressuring sovereign states led by left forces (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, possibly Mexico). Lenin Moreno has already secured the support of Washington's regional partners by accusing Venezuela of involvement in the protests; there have been attempts to link Russia with them, too. In this context, Washington and its allies can tighten pressure on disagreeable countries and the OAS September 2001 ban on military coups can be lifted. It is also possible that international financial institutions have made overreaching demands to a number of countries in a bid to provoke trouble and line their pockets. The October 20-27 elections in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay are a source of some optimism, as the results showed wide support for responsible political forces capable of leading these countries towards social harmony, dialogue and progress.