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New political cycle on the horizon for Latin America due to upcoming elections

It is common to say that 1978 was the beginning of the period known as the “transition towards democracy” in Latin America. Although the region is extremely heterogeneous, impacting more than half of the countries of the area.

Generally, the political cycles are defined by four different types of elements:

  • The generational change of politicians
  • The opposition-government alternating dynamics
  • A change in public policies, essentially those of economic nature which impact the relationship of the government with the market.
  • Those concerning foreign policies of each country

The first political cycle or transition was between 1978 until the end of the 80s. It was characterized by a revaluing of democracy and the rule of law, certain revamping of the political elites and the continued central role of the government in the economy. The period ends in a climate of worrying economic crisis.

This makes way to the second cycle, which goes way into the 90s. Again there is a changeover of political leadership, but the most significant changes are carried out in the economic scope, adopting measures of what was known as the “Washington consensus”, which was the adoption of neoliberal economic policy prescriptions for developing countries.

Then, with the coming of the new century saw the beginning of the Bolivarian cycle, with a profound change in the political classes and economy, directed towards and the major role of the government, this is due to the international price spiking of raw materials. After the death of President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, this cycle begins its downfall between 1999 and 2013.

Among the main reasons for this situation is the deceleration of exports in the balance of payments and the effects of electoral alternation in the region; three milestones of different nature contributed to its end:

  • The election of Mauricio Macri, in Argentina.
  • The Impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and
  • The exit of Rafael Correa of the Ecuadorian political scenario

2018 will mark the beginning of a fourth cycle in Latin America, as the three most important countries of the region (in demographic terms) will have presidential elections, including Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, and since reelection is not an option, the new presidents will be first mandate newcomers.

Venezuela, democracy and China

Surveys indicate that ideological contrasting candidates could have a new seat as they oppose the current officialism, such as the case of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, and Gustavo Petro in Colombia.

Brazil is also pending a ruling of the case of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a favorite to win the upcoming elections in October, but was sentenced to 12 years of jail for accepting an apartment from a developer involved in political bribery cases of the Petrobras case. The Supreme Justice Court postponed a request for habeas corpus from the defense to avoid the former president to be incarcerated for a corruption case.

The preceding is the indecisive scenario which seems to indicate that the new upcoming cycle will be very varied, taking into account that in ideological terms, an eventual turn towards the left would offset the current right after the electoral processes of the last two years.

There are still five elements which are important to pay attention. These could be the Latin-American political agenda which could define the new cycle. In first place, the Venezuelan situation should come to an end and will impact the rest of the region for two specific reasons, one for the excessive migration of people leaving Venezuela and second, for the position of the solution strategies after the failed negotiations between the government and the opposition; and also the stubbornness of Maduro to call on elections without the warranties for a safe, secret and effective vote.

Another factor is the deinstitutionalization of the region. On one side are the presidents moving to satisfy their ambitions for reelection, which have occurred lately in Honduras, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and Nicaragua. Then the battle for powers, unsatisfactorily resolved, such as in Brazil and Venezuela; and the crisis of the traditional political parties which has led to a worrying democracy trivialization, which not only impacts Latin America.

A third is the judicialization of politics and its contrasting aspect, the politicization of the justice system. The presence of the courts in politics is increasing, where they intervene in cases of corruption like in Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador, or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its position regarding gay marriage and its impact in the elections in Costa Rica, or its position in regards to a ruling linked to the results of a popular consultation in Ecuador.

The fourth element is the international scenario. While the United States breaks agreements, questions alliances, and toughens it migratory position, it is important to think if the increasing presence of China in the region, which for now is centered on economics, will transcend into the political and cultural realm.

And last is the fifth aspect, the recoiling of regional integration processes and political consensus which had been very dynamic during the last fifteen years. A clear example is the sluggishness of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Association of South American Nations.)

These five elements are contributing to defining the global scenario to understand the new cycle which is beginning in Latin America which, however, must consider the profound particularities which occur in each country.


Consejo Editorial