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The Latin America stories we're watching in 2022
Journalism is an inherently unpredictable business. One minute, you’re eating arepas and lamenting that staff reporters, devoid of ideas, are writing about Escobar’s cocaine hippos again. Next, there’s been a coup. That said, there are always stories we start watching months in advance, so here are a few dates for your Latin American news diaries in 2022.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court to rule on abortion
This Monday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court resumes debate on three lawsuits that could decriminalize abortion. The court postponed debate after one of the magistrates broke protocol by discussing the case with the media in December.
Under Colombia’s penal code, women can be sentenced to between one and three years in prison for having an abortion. Activists are hoping that regional momentum carries over into the court's decision. Since December 2020, Argentina, Chile and Mexico have legalized or decriminalized abortion, putting the debate in the spotlight.
Barring further procedural delays, a decision is expected at the end of the month.
Argentina’s IMF debt talks reach crunch point
Buenos Aires is hoping to agree a new debt repayment plan with the IMF as soon as possible. A deal would push back the deadlines to return a $44 billion-dollar loan to the international lender of last resort, allowing the country to grow its economy and avoid biting austerity.
Supporters of the deal say it would provide stability and certainty to a national economy where inflation is running at over 50%, the peso is worth half as much on the parallel market as on the formal exchange, and international reserves are running on fumes. But a deal would provoke vociferous protests from a population that associates the fund with hunger and meddling by Washington.
Under the existing plan, the country is due to repay $19 billion in 2022 with the first installment due in March, and analysts say it doesn’t have the cash.
Colombia may elect its first leftist president
Gustavo Petro once picked up arms against the state he now wants to lead. Colombia is holding presidential elections on May 29, and the leftist senator and former mayor of Bogota, once a member of rebel group M-19, is leading polls with 42%. Second-placed Sergio Fajardo, of the center-left Citizen Agreement coalition, has just 19%.
Petro, running with Humane Colombia, has promised to re-implement the 2016 peace accord, rein in extraction by foreign companies and invest in green energy.
The ballot comes a year after nationwide protests were brutally repressed by the far-right administration of current leader, Iván Duque, who cannot run again and has an approval rating of just 22%.
A conservative populace might not be ready to embrace a progressive populist and many analysts believe Fajardo will make gains as the election approaches. May 29 will be a dramatic day however the situation shakes out.
Will Chile move beyond Pinochet and adopt a new constitution?
Chilean president-elect, Gabriel Boric, is set to become the country's youngest leader, aged 35. After he takes office in March, he will work with an independent body which is rewriting the nation's constitution: the current one was passed by dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1980. The fresh text will be put to referendum late this year. Boric and his supporters are keen to move the nation beyond Pinochet’s influence and toward equality and justice, but the outcome is far from certain. Boric’s opponent in the presidential run-off, José Antonio Kast, has a loyal following, a family connection to the dictatorship and won the first round of voting before losing in the run-off.
Boric made a name for himself as a student leader during months-long 2011 protests, and later as a congressman supported the 2019 protests that led to the referendum for a new Constitution.
Brazilians head to the polls
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right COVID denialist who has defended the country’s dictatorship, is up for re-election on October 2. His main opponent will likely be 76-year-old former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a veteran of Latin America’s Pink Tide leftist leaders. Initially jailed and prevented from running over the accusations, Lula was freed in November 2019 after it emerged that the prosecutors on his case were politically motivated. He has previously said that he intends to run, but an official announcement is expected over the coming weeks.
Scramble for economic recovery drives environmental conflict
Latin American governments are racing to recover living standards after the COVID-induced crash and the environment appears to be first against the wall. In Argentina, activists have excoriated environment minister Juan Cabandié following a December 30 decision to allow offshore hydrocarbon exploration along the country’s Atlantic coast.
That came just days after Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced plans to buy the Rincon lithium project in northern Argentina for US$825 million. This dispute is likely to intensify across the region in 2022.
El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption nudges other nations
In 2021 El Salvador became the first nation in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. The circumstances were unique: a small nation led by a popular yet authoritarian president who could push through legislation with little discussion. Still, it seems that it will make Bitcoin regulation more prominent in Latin America in the coming year.
In Panama a congressman has drafted legislation about adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, and the country is adding 300 new Bitcoin ATMs in the coming year. Paraguay looks likely to adopt regulation to encourage Bitcoin mining to capture stranded energy from Itaipu Dam, which currently produces more power than the country uses.
In Argentina and Venezuela, high inflation and capital controls might make the cryptocurrency more attractive to citizens. Elsewhere, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala are exploring creating their own digital currencies.
Finally, Barbados will hold general elections on January 19, followed by Costa Rica on February 6 with a possible second round in April.
Feel free to get in touch and tell us what stories you’re watching in 2022! We tweet here.
Spanish words of the week:
Elecciones (f), comicios (m) - elections
Negacionismo (m) - denialism
That's all for this week, folks. ¡Hasta la próxima!