Crisis and Riot: Latin American Political Trends for 2020


13 maart 2020
Auteur(s): Nicolas Rojas
The history of Latin America is complicated and full of turmoil. Recently, there have been many protests and drastic governmental changes in the region but how did we get here and what's next?

by Nicolas Rojas Preciado

Arts & Culture Editor

Latin America is historically well known as a region in conflict, as the sacred temple of corruption and as the result of its own failed attempts of emancipation; the paradise of drugs and beautiful women, the culture of consensual rape, and the source of immigrants fleeing to better lands. However, only few have acknowledged that all of these stereotypical beliefs are the result of the poor representation the media, the entertainment industry and xenophobia have built. Moreover, Latin America has been for decades now the experimental group of international uncertainty, the marionette of what has been called by many “the great America”, the baby in the cradle staring at the fake assumptions of freedom and independence. Do not get me wrong, the least of my intentions is to make Latin America seem like the victim, and to present the rest of the world as perpetrators; my aim is to share our views, our reality and our truths, to display the mistakes our region has made, but also the external pressure and interventions that have driven the course of Latin American history.

I devote myself in “Crisis and Riot: Latin American Political Trends for 2020” to gather articles that reflect the truth of the current political situations in the different countries of Latin America as an overview on how the region is entering this upcoming decade. By this means, the true nature of countries that have fallen under stereotypes will be revealed.

These countries have a story to tell far beyond the myths, the entertainment productions and the poor image that the international community has on a region that in fact is important for the understanding of international political dynamics in history.

At the moment, Latin America is facing a stage in which the whole region is divided. There is a lack of stability and consistency due to the presence of diverse political regimes that strongly differ from each other ideologically, intensifying the historical division between the right and the left. I will use this historical division to explain the political landscape of Latin America these past few years since Venezuela fell under the Bolivarian regime of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro

Photo taken by Wilfredor at protests against the current government in Venezuela which took place in 2019 in Quebec city, Canada.

Firstly, I will start by briefly addressing the impact and implications of the Cold War in Latin America, the moment when the United States of America became the owner of the lands to the south and the ventriloquist of politics in Latin America. During the Cold War the world was divided in two ways of organizing society, capitalism and socialism, an indirect confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union that made of Latin American history a perfect door for domination and ground for blood when people’s opinions were found to be too inconvenient to those searching for control.

It all started as a “friendly” (forced) collaboration between the north and the south at the end of the Second World War with the creation of the Organization of American States (OAS), which was a way for the United States to gain the desired control over the region in order to assure the solidarity of the south with western ideals, and the only partial comfort for the Latin American countries was that no complete intervention in their territories coming from the north was going to be allowed: “a pact of conditional freedom”. Later on, the United States signed many alliances with Latin American countries offering protection in exchange for goods, equipment and services for the army, under the sole intention of preventing any contact and collaboration between the region and the Soviet Union. Little by little the north had been creating a dependence pact with the south until the inevitable became real. Inspired by the strength of the Soviet Union during the war and due to a weak government as well as poor life standards in some regions, the Cuban Revolution was successful and became one of the most disturbing episodes for the west, which set the seeds for a socialist regime and an example for many movements that were being born in other lands of the south, some of which have even remained present at the beginning of the 21st century.

With Cuba under a socialist regime and the following defeat of the United States in its attempts in gaining back some control over those territories, the political strategies coming from the north were intensified and ranged from further investment in countries still aligned with western ideals to a more drastic behind the curtains intervention with espionage. However, the spirit of the Cuban Revolution began to spread across the continent. New movements found the support of the people and found their way to power with the aim of making changes, looking for progress in a new way, in an independent manner as never before. Countries were shaping themselves, new political movements and syndicates from the left arose; it was time for the United States to deepen their forces in the region. 

With the help of the CIA, with money under the table and other unconventional methods, the United States supported different regimes from the right such as the National Front in Colombia and the military movements that destroyed Peronism in Argentina and Salvador Allende’s government in Chile to establish the bloody and dreadful dictatorships of Videla and Pinochet.

In other words, the Cold War made the United States respond with political persecution and war to any rising political movements from the left offering a different ideal, with alternative options in the governability of a region. And that fear that the north brought to the south is a feeling that still exists today and that nowadays is intensified with the presence of a country with a failed socialist system: Venezuela. Historically, before the fall of the Berlin wall, the left had been directly associated with the Soviet Union in Latin America; any ideal different from the “American” right was wrong, impossible and inadequate. With the fall of the Berlin wall the situation in Latin America breathed some fresh air as the strict influence of the United States in the region lessened, although the region did remain economically dependent. Nevertheless, this time of relative stability didn’t last long; with the rise to power of Hugo Chavez in December 1998 the left finally took hold of a South American country: Venezuela. Then, governments in the region started to shift, looking for new opportunities by changing the governments that had been controlled during the Cold War by the right with the support of the United States. With Chavez, Latin America started a process of differentiation as left-wing governments spread over the continent: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, among others.

After some years with these political structures, the death of  Hugo Chavez  and the subsequent government of  Nicolas Maduro  changed everything in a drastic way. The left found either weaknesses in its ideology or failure in its governmental structures that led to a progressive resurrection of the right, which intensified with the election of  Donald Trump  as president of the  United States . Fear towards the left also intensified due in great part to the failing government of  Nicolas Maduro  as  Venezuela ’s economy collapsed, and the right now uses  Venezuela  as an argument to delegitimize any different left-leaning currents of thought, leading to the recent establishment of right-wing governments in Latin America such as the election of  Iván Duque  as president of  Colombia  and the election of the far-right  Jair Bolsonaro  in  Brazil .

As it can be seen with this brief discussion and historical overview, Latin America has been a plane of versatility, tampered by internal and external factors. Put in a simpler way, in order to understand the situation of any individual country in Latin America it is important to understand the big picture from the whole region over the last century. This becomes an invitation to read the upcoming issues on what Latin American countries are facing at the moment and how the atmosphere is perceived for this new decade.

“Yes, Latinos dream more. When you live in poverty, when your president is imposed upon you, when they kill someone and no one gets indicted, and when only a few get rich, of course you dream more. It's no coincidence that magic realism happens in Latin America, because for us dreams and aspirations are part of life.”

Jorge Ramos, Mexican-born American journalist and author