We made some big LATAM predictions for 2023: this is our crystal ball scorecard
Rising authoritarianism, difficulties in peace-building and chaos in Peru were just a few of the trends we got right
Nearly a year ago we published our predictions for 2023 on likely trends and events in Latin America and the time has come to check our work! For a region that is often deeply unpredictable, I’d say we did pretty well.
First up, Peru! As we made our predictions in January, Castillo had been recently deposed, and the country was wracked by protest. After gazing into our crystal ball, we predicted the following:
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.
President Boluarte did indeed survive the medium term, though she is currently engaged in an existential battle to retain her office. Her method of surviving, however— tenuous agreements with corrupt right-wing parties— was a Faustian bargain for which the devil seems to now be demanding his due.
Instead of enacting political reform that benefits the Peruvian people, the deeply unpopular Congress seems to have decided instead to bypass popular support and enact reforms which instead benefit themselves.
For the moment, the streets of Lima are relatively calm, but a number of brewing crises could, and perhaps are likely to, change that at any moment. The instability we predicted in the halls of Congress, however, has already come to pass, and rural communities long-ignored across administrations, seem to be completely forgotten.
PWS Crystal Ball score: 8/10
Boluarte surprised us somewhat with her political resilience, but the rest of our predictions were on tack!
Growing Authoritarianism in El Salvador and beyond
We predicted increasing authoritarianism across Latin America, but especially in El Salvador, and boy were we right on the money on this one. A year ago we wrote:
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.
Buekele’s “temporary” state of emergency is still in effect, and he has effectively torn up the Constitution to suit his personal ambition as he runs for an illegal second presidential term. His approval rating remains high, but his utter consolidation of all branches of government possibly ranks even higher.
Barring some unforeseen and increasingly unlikely event that changes that dynamic, he will win elections in 2024. When that happens, El Salvador will no longer be an emerging autocracy, but well on the way to becoming a full-blown dictatorship.
Meanwhile, the country has surpassed the U.S. as the country with highest per-capita prison rate in the world, and tens of thousands of prisoners, many arrested arbitrarily or without formal charges, languish in prison.
In the meantime, a number of politicians across the region have promised to adopt the “firm-hand” strategies that seem to have made Bukele so popular.
Crystal Ball Score: 10/10
Brazil’s Lula perhaps more confident than we predicted
They say in journalistic circles that Brazil is not for beginners, and this year has not been an exception. Last year we wrote:
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.
This prediction was, admittedly, a bit vague on our part, but it was indeed spot on the money. Since taking office, Lula has walked a fine line between pleasing his supporters, which often exacerbates polarization, and simultaneously attempting to build bridges with moderates and opposition parties.
These efforts have yielded mixed results. Lula’s international efforts seem to have been motivated by a desire to portray a model of regional leadership, an effort which has also yielded mixed results. He has also at times run into serious disagreements with allies, such as Petro in Colombia.
But a year into his presidency, Lula’s approval rating remains above 50% and he has made headway on domestic projects that share approval across the aisles, such as continued investment in oil infrastructure.
PWS Crystal Ball Score: 6/10
We got the prediction right, but to be honest it wasn’t a prediction so much as an observation, so we’re knocking a few points off. We were also a bit wrong about Bolsonaro, who has mostly kept out of the public eye, perhaps in part due to ongoing criminal investigations against him. We will take more Brazilian risks in the next installment!
Petro is finding out how difficult it really is to end Conflict in Colombia
And boy is he ever. We have written extensively on this subject throughout the year, but to make a long story short, violence continues to rise in rural areas, as do kidnappings, and Petro has little to show for his efforts at “Total Peace” beyond symbolic diplomatic victories.
But then again, everyone knew bringing true peace to Colombia wasn’t going to be easy.
PWS Crystal Ball Score: 10/10
Not terribly surprising. This is after all Joshua’s principal beat as a journalist.
For more details on that, you can read our recent Ship’s Log for paid subscribers.
Argentinean Election Mania
Well, As you all know, Milei won the presidential elections and will take office on December 10.
Scandals [in the current administration] and severe economic crisis’ 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.
We have little more to add. This played out pretty much exactly as we thought it would.
PWS Crystal Ball Score: 8/10 only because we didn’t outright predict a Milei victory— we just said it was a very distinct possibility.
All in all, a pretty good set of predictions! Though of course with some minor flaws. But hey, LATAM is what we study every day!
Pirate Wire Services is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Big Headlines in LATAM
Venezuelans are voting in a referendum on Sunday to measure popular support for its historical claim to a contested oil-rich swathe of jungle currently administered by Guyana.
The region is known as Essequibo and makes up two-thirds of the total of the land currently controlled by Guyana. It is home to 125,000 of Guyana’s 800,000 citizens.
It follows some saber-rattling by Maduro over the region in recent months, and has led some people who don’t follow LATAM closely to write some rather alarmist articles.
Our own Amy has a piece at the Buenos Aires Herald that explains the situation nicely.
What we’re writing
Joshua had a six-month investigative piece finally published at the New Republic. New evidence from the Colombian prosecutor’s office accuses Alabama mining company, Drummond, of paying illegal paramilitary groups- allegedly for the contracted murders of three union leaders.
The cast of characters seems more from a Hollywood movie than reality: from a disgraced CIA spook turned corporate mercenary, to reps from paramilitary death squads on the Drummond payroll. An upcoming trial in Colombia has family members of murdered union members hopeful they might finally see justice.
You can read more here.
This is one of those unique Spanish words that is super specific. El entrecejo is that all-important area of your face that goes from one eyebrow to the other. It’s neither your forehead, nor your nose. In Spanish, it’s the entrecejo.
I wish we had a better way to describe it, but the word just doesn’t exist in English. Joshua heard this word for the first time this week from a friend, and she had to explain it for 10 minutes before he understood exactly what he meant.
That’s it for this week piratas! Thanks for reading. And as always, we urge you to consider taking out a paid subscription to support our work. It’s just $5/month and it allows us to keep bringing you the stories and analysis on LATAM you won’t get from the big media companies.