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The Pirate Wire LATAM Crystal Ball: 2023
The big stories we will be watching in 2023, and our predictions for the trends and challenges ahead
As the world sails into 2023, the crew at PWS has been consulting our pirate charts, gazing into our crystal balls, and communing with the sea gods about what the year is likely to bring for Latin America— the challenges, the big stories and the political headwinds that will affect the course of the entire region.
We broke down the top 5 into concise chunks for your consideration. How do you think we did? Agree? Hate it? Drop a note in the comments letting us know!
Ongoing Strife in the Peruvian Streets is sign of deeper political struggles
Peru is still wracked by massive protests that began last month when former president Pedro Castillo was arrested for trying to dissolve Congress. At least 47 people have been killed, mostly members of indigenous Aymara and Quechua indigenous communities in the south of the country, amidst a police crackdown that has included firing live bullets at protesters. Violence has also killed one police officer.
Peru’s top prosecutor has opened an investigation into the actions of current president Dina Boluarte and her cabinet on charges of “genocide, homicide and serious injuries.”
Protesters have demanded the resignation of Boluarte, as well as Congress, which is even more unpopular than ex-president Castillo (and that is an impressive accomplishment). Boluarte has refused calls to resign, but called for new Congressional elections in a failed attempt to placate protesters.
Congress, which was dissolved in 2019 by then-president Martiín Vizcarra for corruption, (because they were investigating him for corruption), has refused any proposal that would include current lawmakers giving up their seats.
Peru has had 6 presidents and two Congressional bodies in three years, leading some experts to wonder if perhaps the country is “ungovernable”. But critics of the Peruvian ruling class say the dysfunction stems not from the Peruvian Constitution, but rather “internal colonial attitudes” that have long excluded rural poor and indigenous communities, as well as widespread political corruption.
Whether Boluarte survives the current popular rebellion will depend upon the actions of security forces over the next few weeks, as well as ongoing investigations. In the short term, her resignation amidst growing political pressure is not out of the realm of possibility.
In the medium term, Peru’s elite ruling class will be faced with an existential question— make government reforms that focus political policies on communities outside of economic engines such as the capital in Lima, and that are inclusive of all Peruvian society, or face continued instability in the streets as well as the halls of Congress.
Bolsonaro’s Brazilian Invasion illustrates the challenges that lie ahead for Lula
Thousands of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro invaded and briefly occupied Congress and the Supreme Court buildings in Brazil on Sunday before being arrested en masse by soldiers deployed for that purpose.
Protests have gripped Brazil since the election last month of leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Die-hard Bolsonaro supporters falsely believe the election was illegitimate.
Bolsonaro condemned the invasion of public buildings via twitter from Miami, where he fled shortly after losing his re-election bid, and compared them to left-wing movements in Brazil in 2013 and 2017.
Lula has called the attackers “fascists” and blamed Bolsonaro’s efforts during the presidential campaign to cast doubt on the validity of elections should he lose.
Protesters have vowed to continue mass-demonstrations with the hope that military officials will intervene, a possibility that most experts consider unlikely but not unprecedented.
The situation reflects extreme polarization among Brazilian society, and is also a striking example of the dangerous global trend of politicians using disinformation as an election tool.
Lula, who won election by a razor-thin margin, is likely to face steep resistance implementing his vision for the presidency. And supporters of Bolsonaro have made it clear that they will resist his rule in the streets.
Brazil, which has succumbed to dictatorship in the past, is undergoing a stress test of its very Democracy. The next few months will show if state institutions have the strength to hold against the rising populism in the streets and erosion from within by Bolsonaro allies, who won a plurality of local elections in December.
The Rise of a New Dictator in Central America?
Authoritarian creep is on the rise in Central America, a regional movement being spearheaded by El Salvador, where the self-proclaimed “coolest dictator in the world”, Nayib Bukele, has been consolidating the power of his office and suspending the civil rights of residents.
A “temporary” state of emergency, which allows special powers for police to conduct surveillance and make arrests without warrants, has now entered its 9th month. The measure, which Bukele has defended as a “war on gangs”, has resulted in more than 100,000 arrests, or roughly two-percent of the total population.
The mass-arrests mean that El Salvador has surpassed the United States as the country with the highest per-capita prison population in the world, and human rights groups have reported arbitrary arrests, especially in poor neighborhoods, police abuse of inmates, and a string of suspicious deaths for which the state is likely responsible.
Last month, Bukele deployed 10,000 soldiers to surround and blockade the town of Soyapango, in a measure critics called “a siege”.
Bukele, who maintains an approval rating of 86%, has also announced plans to run for re-election, despite his re-election being illegal under at least 4 articles of the El Salvadoran Constitution.
He has also announced plans to double-down on the country’s investment in BitCoin, despite having lost millions of dollars of government money since El Salvador’s initial investment last year.
Bukele’s “strong hand” security measure have also inspired copycat policies in neighboring Honduras, where president Xiomara Castro has declared a similar “state of emergency”. (We explained that in depth last month).
Bukele may use the word “dictator” jokingly, but El Salvador is indeed drifting towards exactly that, and his many supporters for now seem to be quite willing to trade their civil rights for security improvements, even if that change comes with abuses on the part of public forces.
El Salvador holds presidential elections in 2024, and Bukele, who has also persecuted journalists critical of his expanding power, is likely to only continue consolidating his power this year. Democracies don’t always die in spectacular coup d’états, they sometimes fade away slowly in gradual power creep.
And if Bukele’s high popularity continues to hold, other countries in the region may well adopt his strategies.
Petro is finding out how difficult it really is to end Conflict in Colombia
Violence in Colombian rural areas continues to rise, despite ongoing negotiations between the government and armed groups. President Gustavo Petro committed a startling unforced error on New Year’s Eve when he announced a new “historic ceasefire” that seemingly never existed.
The blunder is likely to complicate ongoing negotiations with rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN), who not only denied being part of any bilateral ceasefire, but also even being consulted about one.
We covered the story Friday in case you missed it, and it illustrates the challenges Petro will face in his plan to bring what he calls “Total Peace” to Colombia.
The new year has already seen increased fighting between armed groups, and Petro will need more than eloquent speeches to stem further bloodletting.
In Argentina, money woes, corruption scandals and Presidential elections
Argentina will hold presidential elections this year, and incumbent President Alberto Fernández will find himself faced with an unenviable social and political panorama that could see him become the next protagonist of Latin America’s anti-incumbent trend - if he runs at all, that is.
The country faces a host of economic problems, including an inflation rate of 94.8% in 2022.
Last December, Vice President and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was convicted of defrauding the state in a scheme that netted nearly $1bn.
The scandal was overtaken in global headlines after Argentina won the World Cup, but the high-profile case - the first-ever conviction of a sitting vice president in Argentina - will likely drag on the ratings of whoever the ruling coalition fields as a presidential candidate.
The Fernández administration has also been accused of meddling with judicial independence. . Last week, the president launched efforts aimed at impeaching a Supreme Court Judge, after the court handed him an unfavorable ruling diverting more funds to the capital city of Buenos Aires. A recent report by Human Rights Watch also highlighted ongoing efforts to expand the supreme court, which it said could be used to pack the courts, and the wrangle for control over the body that disciplines judges.
Fernandez has called ongoing corruption allegations against his allies “lawfare”, claiming that his political opponents have weaponized rarely used legal strategies in an attempt to undermine his presidency.
The scandals have given momentum to ultra-right wing candidate Javier Milei, who endorses strict austerity policies to rein in spending (and also the legalization of organ trafficking).
Recent polls suggest that only around 12% of the Argentine population plan to vote for libertarianism, and he has very little by way of congressional representation so far. Nonetheless, experiences with candidates such as Bolsonaro in Brazil show that you should rule nothing out, especially if the country’s economic woes continue.
THE BIG HEADLINES:
Our main feature covered a lot of the big headlines in Latin America this week, but there were some developments that aren’t in the international headlines that are worth paying attention to.
Like the fact that it’s Carnival season in Colombia! From Pasto to Caldas, a series of hyper local celebrations, extremely unique in nature, all kicked off last week. The Caribbean coastal cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena will soon follow with regional Carnivals of their own.
Our correspondent Daniela is currently at the Festival of the Devil in Caldas, and boy do we wish we could share her photos, because they are amazing. Ok, maybe just one, as a treat.
President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced a major expansion of Title 42, the Trump era migration policy that has led to deportation of nearly 1 million asylum seekers.
Despite false claims from the administration that the program expands asylum programs for humanitarian reasons, it sharply restricts the total number, and makes entry at land borders impossible.
Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on Latin Affairs and migration advocates have sharply criticized the decision, pointing out that it will leave the vast majority of asylum seekers on the continent ineligible and will increase the likelihood of informal entry at more remote and dangerous points, leading to migrant deaths.
Spanish word of the week:
“Golpista”: the word entered the news cycle this week after the dramatic takeover of government buildings in Brazil by Bolsonaro supporters. We saw some really bad translations, such as the Washington Post using the word “terrorist”.
We think the closest translation is “insurrectionist”, but it could also mean “coup supporter” or “someone who wants to overthrow the government.”
The real time debate has inspired us to create las Fuerzas Capybaras Golpistas, and restore global hegemony to where it belongs— in the paws of our furry and benevolent Capybara overlords.