Commentary: The main social problems currently facing Latin America are increasing social inequality, rising unemployment and rampant violence. This shows that the political elites and parties are scarcely able to rule their countries and cannot cope with the challenges they have to face. Some progress, however, is being made
In 2019 as many as eight general elections were held in Latin America: El Salvador (February 3), Cuba (constitutional referendum on February 24), Panama (May 5), Guatemala (June 16), Bolivia (October 20), Argentina (October 27), Uruguay (October 27), the Commonwealth of Dominica (December 6 – not to be confused with the Dominican Republic).
In 2021 elections will be held in Ecuador (February 7), El Salvador (February 28), Peru (April 11), Saint Lucia (June), Mexico (July), Aruba (September), Haiti (September 19), Argentina (October 24), Nicaragua (November 7) Chile (November 21) and Honduras (November).
We need to dwell on the overall course of these elections and their significance for Latin American societies, as well as on the contradictions inherent in them.
The world is currently undergoing major changes never seen so far in the young 21st century, and Latin America is no exception. In 2019 the situation in Latin America had two characteristics: change, on the one hand, and chaos, on the other.
Considering the changes occurring in the international and internal situation, Latin American countries are facing huge pressure. Many States have tried to make financial, tax, pension and other reforms, as well as adopt various political adjustments and methods to adapt to the situation and reduce financial deficits, so as to promote economic development and improve people’s living conditions.
Nevertheless, due to the unequal distribution of wealth and the widening gap between rich and poor, as well as the delay in meeting people’s demands, large-scale protests and violence have broken out in many Latin American countries.
Latin America’s economic growth is stalling and diplomatic relations tend to be diversified and fragmented. The U.S. Administration has changed its policy towards Latin America and has promoted a new Monroe Doctrine in an attempt to divide and break Latin America’s unity.
The political climate in Latin America continues to retreat for left-wing parties and advance for the right-wing ones. Although the claim that Latin America’s progressive cycle is ending is unfounded, judging by the results of the eight Latin American elections in 2019, the pendulum of Latin American politics anyway swings to the right.
The right or center-right parties continued to rule in Guatemala and Panama. The left-wing parties lost general elections in El Salvador and Uruguay. Although the Bolivian Left for Socialism won the general elections in both 2019 and 2020, President Morales was forced to resign due to electoral fraud and go into exile to Mexico as from November 11, 2019. On December 12 he moved to Argentina.
The Latin American Left, however, is progressing. In Argentina’s elections of October 27, 2019, Alberto Fernández, the candidate of the center-left Frente de Todos with the Justicialist (Peronist) Party defeated the right-wing candidate of Juntos por el Cambio, Mauricio Macri.
Another feature of the current political climate in Latin America is that both left-wing and right-wing governments have evident difficulties. The political and economic crises of the left-wing governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua have intensified; the left-wing government led by Morales in Bolivia has fallen and the Cuban economy has undergone severe difficulties.
Macri’s government in Argentina lost the general election due to an internal economic crisis during its term of office. Conflicts within the government of Brazil’s President Bolsonaro have become increasingly severe. Bolsonaro himself has withdrawn from the Partido Social Liberal and has formed a new party, Aliança pelo Brasil. As stated above, economic growth has been slow also in Ecuador and Chile. The wave of protests in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti, etc. has not subsided, multiplying one after the other.
The reasons for the outbreak of protests and revolts in many Latin American countries are not the same, but there are some common ones. Firstly, most countries pursue neo-liberal economic policies and their economic structure is unique, thus causing economic recession.
Secondly, in many Latin American countries, political elites and parties are scarcely able to rule the country and cannot cope with the challenges they have to face. People have no confidence in them.
Thirdly, in recent years the gap between the rich and the poor has widened and the lower middle class, that was lifted out of poverty years before, has plunged again into poverty.
Fourthly, people have some common demands, such as opposing the rising cost of living, the privatization of education, of medical care, of public services and of social security – hence they demand increases in minimum wages and pensions.
Fifthly, in recent years the phenomenon of military intervention in politics has increased in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, etc.
Sixthly, there was direct or indirect interference by the U.S. Administration led by former President Trump.
The weak economic recovery in Latin America has been negatively affected by the international economic situation and the constraints of the national economic structure. In 2015 and 2016, Latin America’s economy recorded negative growth for two consecutive years. The economy rebounded in 2017, with a growth rate of 1.3% in 2017 and 1.1% in 2018.
According to a recent report by the Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe dated November 12, 2019, there has been the slowest growth in the world for five consecutive years over the last 70 years.
In 2019, Brazil’s economy grew by 0.8% only, Mexico’s by 0.2%, Colombia’s by 3.2%, Peru’s by 2.5%, Chile’s by 1.8% and Cuba’s by 0.5%, while Argentina and Venezuela recorded negative growth rates, i.e. -3% and -23%, respectively.
In 2019, the poverty rate was the most severe in Latin America. The third meeting of the Foro de los Países de América Latina y el Caribe sobre el Desarrollo Sostenible como ejemplo de coordinación y seguimiento de la Agenda 2030 en la región, which was held in Santiago de Chile on April 22-26, 2019, highlighted that the population living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean had decreased in the first 15 years of this century, but since 2015 extreme poverty in Latin America has increased.
On November 29, 2019, ECLAC published the 2019 Report known as Latin American Social Overview and Outlook. There are currently 191 million poor people in Latin America, accounting for 30.8% of the total population: 72 million people (11.5%) live in extreme poverty and the malnourished population amount to 42.5 million people (6.6%).
As noted above, the main social problems currently facing Latin America are the increasing social inequality, rising unemployment and rampant violence.
This shows that the political elites and parties are scarcely able to rule the country and cannot cope with the challenges they have to face. Some progress, however, is being made.
On December 1, 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-wing Movimiento Regeneración Nacional took office as Mexico’s President. After over a year in power, President López pledged to carry out the Cuarta Transformación (1. Independence 1810-21; 2. Leyes de Reforma: on the separation between Church and State, wanted by Benito Juarez, 1858-61; 3. Revolution 1910-1917).
In his first anniversary speech on December 1, 2019, Lopez stressed he had achieved remarkable results in fighting corruption, increasing minimum wages and pensions, improving public welfare, reducing government austerity and keeping inflation low.
He acknowledged that economic growth had not reached the desired level, but the government issued a number of plans to step up economic development and increase efforts to crack down on drug crimes in view of solving the security and violence problems it should face.
Latin American countries are generally also affected by major social contradictions. Besides the U.S. policy of division and disintegration, Latin American countries are clearly divided into two camps on issues such as the Venezuelan crisis, after the recent elections of December 6, 2020 that saw the left-wing Gran Polo Patriótico Simón Bolívar (69.34%) win over the pro-U.S. Alianza Democrática (18.76%) of Juan Guaidó, who self-proclaimed President of Venezuela on January 2019.
There are over ten Latin American countries that recognize and support the self-proclaimed pro-U.S. President (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic), while Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Uruguay recognize the legitimate President, Nicolás Maduro Moros, also bolstered by the support and strength of his very large victory in the Venezuelan election two months ago.
Giancarlo Elia Valori