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The political stability of Latin America will be put to the test in 2023

Published on January 02, 2023

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Three Latin American countries will have presidential elections in 2023. In addition, Chile and Ecuador will have referendums to change the Constitution.

Latin America will move in 2023 between uncertainty due to inflation, the energy crisis and meager economic growth, on the one hand; and the push for political and social change that a more conscious and critical citizenry is pressuring their leaders to make.

Nine years ago, Latin America was advancing. Supported by the boom in raw materials, a decrease in regional poverty and inequality, and the beginning of democracy taking root.

But in 2014, the commodity boom came to an end and thus began a new ‘lost decade’ that continues into 2023.

The mediocre growth of 1.7% forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the high levels of inflation, the increase in violence and organized crime, the migratory crisis, and the catastrophic effects of the pandemic, paint a very discouraging picture for the region.

This situation is undermining development aspirations, increasing citizen discontent, posing challenges to democracy, hindering the region’s international role and limiting regional integration initiatives.

Political instability in Latin America

Most analysts foresee political instability continuing in 2023, manifested in the punishment vote that the ruling party and the traditional political parties have received, with the fifteen consecutive victories of the opposition in the countries that have held free and transparent elections in the last four years.

In the electoral agenda of Latin America for next year, the following stand out:

  • Three presidential elections (Argentina, Paraguay and Guatemala)
  • Two constitutional referendums (Chile and Ecuador).

These appointments will test the political stability of a region in which society is pressing to make traditional demands (health, education, security, pensions) and emerging ones (fight against sexist violence, sexual and reproductive rights, care for the environment) come true.

But despite political instability, corruption, and authoritarian whims, Latin America prospers culturally, has the potential to exercise some leadership on the global stage, and remains the developing region where democracy is most entrenched.

Democracy works

In addition, attempts to alter or weaken electoral systems that function as guarantors of the democratic system have failed in both Brazil and Mexico, the two largest countries in the region, while in Argentina, the current vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was convicted of corruption (in a sentence that is not yet final) and in Peru the attempted self-coup by Pedro Castillo was dismantled.

Even so, the following is a review of some of the challenges that will be faced by some of the countries of the region in 2023.

Argentina

In Argentina, the main challenge for next year will be to curb the rapid rate of inflation – the highest in three decades – without completely cooling the economy.

The stabilization of the economy is also tied to compliance with the fiscal and monetary goals set in the agreement signed last March with the IMF, which will be even more demanding in 2023.

At the regional level, Argentina will occupy the pro tempore presidency of Mercosur in the first half of 2023, with Uruguay eager to sign a trade agreement with China and with the challenge of giving new impetus to the integration process and promoting negotiations with the European Union (EU) to settle the differences that hinder a final free trade agreement.

Brazil

In Brazil, Lula da Silva, who returned to the presidency after a 2003-2010 term, will have to deal with a Congress in which the opposition has a majority, Jair Bolsonaro’s raging supporters protesting in the streets, and a third of its two-hundred and fourteen million people below the poverty line.

In addition to dealing with a polarized society, Lula will have the challenges of caring for the biodiversity of the Amazon, severely mistreated by his predecessor, and protecting indigenous communities.

The Brazilian president, the undisputed political leader of the region, wants to demonstrate -as Joe Biden did after the end of the Trump era- that his country has returned to the global stage and to do so plans to host the COP in 2025, in addition to organizing the BRICS and G20 summits in 2024.

Mexico

Another president who will assert his political capital next year is the Mexican leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who enjoys high citizen approval, but who Constitutionally is not allowed to run for re-election. His 6-year term ends on September 30, 2024

López Obrador will host the presidents of the United States, Joe Biden, and Canada, Justin Trudeau, for the North American Leaders Summit, which will be held in Mexico City during the second week of January.

Peru

Perhaps the country’s biggest problem is that now faced by its latest President, Dina Boluarte, who took office on December 7, 2022, after Congress removed Pedro Castillo as the country’s fourth president in the last two years (for trying to dissolve Parliament and constitute a national emergency government).

In an environment of great political instability and social unrest, Boluarte has tried to control the situation by calling for early elections in December 2023 and by using a strong hand to silence the protests of Castillo’s supporters while showing concern over a balance of around thirty deaths and hundreds of wounded and arrested.

Colombia

Materializing total peace—in a country where almost a hundred armed groups continue to operate—is the main challenge in Colombia, where next year the question of whether the talks with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army advance or break down.

The possibility is also open for the government of Gustavo Petro to initiate contacts with other groups, such as the drug traffickers of the Clan del Golfo or the FARC dissidents, to propose that they submit to justice or to offer them a political dialogue.

Despite the favorable climate for negotiations and peace, the country continues to bleed to death and violence continues to affect communities that have been historically violated: Afro, indigenous and peasants.

Chile

This will be a crucial year for Chile to complete the process of political and social change that arose from the protests that broke out in the streets in October 2019.

The unexpected and resounding rejection by Chile’s citizens last September to the constitutional project elaborated ad hoc by the Convention, has given way to a process agreed upon by the political elites so that the Parliament and a committee of experts jointly develop a new draft magna carta that will be put to the vote in early 2024, in a referendum with mandatory voting.

Venezuela

Venezuela reaches its tenth year under the presidency of Nicolás Maduro—at a time when the United States and the European Union reduce their sanctions against the regime and resume dialogue—while the opposition to Chavismo tries to agree to choose its candidate for the 2024 presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the recession, institutional erosion and the increase in authoritarianism continue in Central America, especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador, along with large-scale emigration as the only way out of an increasingly difficult situation.

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