asks leading experts about the political outlook in Latin America.
BY LATINVEX STAFF
What is the overall political outlook in Latin America in
2014? Will there be more unrest in Venezuela and Argentina during 2014 as a
result of the economic problems? Is there any chance of a regime change in
Venezuela? Will Dilma Rousseff and Juan Manuel Santos to be re-elected in this
year’s presidential elections in Brazil and Colombia? If so, will they continue
with the same policies or change policies? If Tabare Vazquez wins the Uruguay
elections in October, will he shift Uruguay more towards the left compared with
current president Jose Mujica or will he largely follow the same policies as
Latinvex asked three leading experts.
Ariel C. Armony, Director of the
University of Miami's Center for Latin American Studies
Cynthia J. Arnson, Director
of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Riordan Roett, Professor and Director,
Latin American Studies Program, Western Hemisphere Studies, SAIS-Johns Hopkins
Latinvex: How would you describe Latin America's
overall political outlook in 2014?
Roett: Over all stable with Venezuela most uncertain, followed
Arnson: It’s very difficult to talk about an overall regional
trend, given the diversity of countries and sub-regions in the
hemisphere. In several countries with national elections, there will be
continuity in terms of the party or person in power (for example, Colombia,
Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil), with potential changes in El Salvador.
Ruptures such as what took place in Honduras in 2009 are unlikely anywhere,
even in the face of deep political divisions. Overall, central problems
of governance such as citizen insecurity and institutional weakness will remain
Armony: If we talk
about the region in general, it is reasonable to expect a stable 2014. Seven
countries will hold presidential elections in the region. These elections are
not expected to create instability in any of these countries. We may see
sporadic episodes of social unrest, but there seems to be a new situation in
the region: for the most part, social unrest does not force the collapse of the
incumbent administration. Governments are able to cope with these episodes
without resorting to major repression or losing their legitimacy in a dramatic
Do you expect to see more unrest in
Venezuela and Argentina during 2014 as a result of the economic problems?
Armony: Yes. These
countries are experiencing two serious challenges: high inflation and citizen
insecurity. In Venezuela, inflation rate went from 20.1 percent in January 2013
to 58.1 percent in December 2013. As we know, the figures for Argentina are
very difficult to establish, but inflation has seriously eroded the purchasing
power of the population. A good piece of news is that the Economics Minister is
now an official with the capacity to enact actual policies. However, it is
unclear whether these policies would be effective and help turn the situation
around. The problem of insecurity in Argentina and Venezuela, which is related
to the economic problems, is serious because it erodes the legitimacy of
institutions -- people lose confidence in institutions when they view the state
as unable to curb crime and violence. High inflation and rising insecurity are
a dangerous combination.
Arnson: Venezuela’s massive economic problems, coupled with the
highest homicide rate in South America, did not translate into reversals for
the ruling party in last December’s municipal elections, so where economic hardship
intersects with political unrest is difficult to pinpoint. The same is
true of Argentina, although the Kirchner regime has far fewer economic and
political resources at its disposal to satisfy popular demands.
Roett: Venezuela is on the edge of crisis; a lame duck [Argentine
President] Cristina [Fernandez is] unpredictable with recent cabinet changes
doing nothing to reassure the markets or the Argentine population.
Do you see any chance of a regime change in Venezuela
impossible. [President Nicolas] Maduro must be embarrassing to the Chavista coalition with his idiotic
rhetoric, lack of understanding of economics and finance, etc. A palace
coup is not impossible.
Armony: No. Let's
remember that Venezuela will not have presidential elections until 2019. Even
though the situation has worsened since Maduro assumed power, it is likely that
his regime will not be destabilized. He will continue the trend of tightening
his grip on political power. It is worth mentioning that "chavismo"
won local and regional elections by an ample margin in 2013. If you go outside
the major cities in Venezuela, you will find that the countryside remains loyal
to the government.
Arnson: Judging by
the results of the December 2013 municipal elections, the opposition has not
recovered from its narrow defeat in the new elections called last April
following the death of President Hugo Chávez. If anything, it has lost
ground. Its ability to defeat President Nicolás Maduro in a recall
referendum allowed by the Venezuelan Constitution mid-way through the
president’s term is in question.
BRAZIL AND COLOMBIA
Do you expect Dilma Rousseff and Juan Manuel Santos to be
re-elected in Brazil and Colombia? If so, will they continue with the same
policies or do you expect a change of policies?
Arnson: Rousseff and Santos will almost certainly be re-elected, but the campaigns will be divisive. In Colombia, Santos’ political commitment to a successful peace process with the FARC will intensify and he will continue the drive to increase foreign investment in Colombia and deepen the Pacific Alliance. A new Rousseff administration will continue to focus on economic issues, including slow growth and lags in infrastructure and competitiveness.
Roett: Both will be re-elected. Dilma may try
and clean up the economy in 2015....hopefully it will not be too late to do so.
I expect Santos to continue on the same policy line.
Armony: Yes. I think that there are no doubts that Santos will
be reelected. According to a recent Gallup poll, if the elections were to be
held now, 38.5 percent of interviewees would vote for Santos while 13.6 percent
would vote for [former economy minister Oscar Ivan] Zuluaga. (Interestingly, a
larger percentage of interviewees disapprove of Santos's performance than those
who express approval). Santos is likely to continue with the same policies
because he has already set up an agenda for a second term. I expect that the
agenda will be dominated by the peace process and, if the process is completed
successfully, by a concerted effort to implement a series of post-conflict
policies. I had the opportunity to chat privately with President Santos when he
visited the University of Miami [in December 2013]. Our Center for Latin
American Studies was instrumental in arranging his visit -- and I was very
impressed with his ideas. Whether you agree or not with his policies, he has a
very well-articulated agenda. Dilma is expected to win reelection, unless
something serious happens during the World Cup. One of her most important
challenges would be to address the roots of social discontent and keep the
middle class's dreams of "Brazilian grandeza" alive. One more thing:
Dilma has been able to handle public discontent very well. After taking a hit
in June, when her approval ratings (positive performance appraisal) decreased
to 30 percent (with 43 percent viewing her performance as regular and 25
percent as bad), her approval ratings went up toward the end of the year (41
percent positive appraisal and 17 percent negative appraisal in November 2013)
If Tabare Vazquez
wins the Uruguay elections in October, will he shift Uruguay more towards the
left compared with Mujica or will he largely follow the same policies as today?
Armony: I don't think he will move to the left of Mujica.
Uruguay has found its own path and it is doing very well. I see no reason for
Vasquez to steer away from this trajectory.
Roett: Tabare should be a
shoo-in and will certainly continue the same moderate, pragmatic policies that
has characterized Uruguay for years.
Arnson: Tabare Vazquez
will continue on the path of political as well as socio-economic inclusion that
marked his first term. Overall, he is more skeptical than Mujica of the
country’s experiment with marijuana legalization, and one can predict vigorous
oversight of the initial results of the new law. Uruguay may also strike
out on a different path of economic integration, seeking to ally more closely
with the like-minded open economies of the countries of the Pacific
Alliance. Mercosur has some rough days ahead.
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