By Dr Aparaajita Pandey
Covid, Protests, and elections have been the primary theme for Latin America for 2020-21. The election cycle that began in 2019 will end in 2022 with the two big Presidential elections in Brazil and Colombia. An economic recovery will be the major endeavour in the region; and the society shall continue to battle protest movements and, in all probability, new strains of Covid. The Caribbean might be the only source for a little cheer with its energy boom.
2022 looks for Latin America and the Caribbean, a lot like its past two years. It would be unfair to think that such melancholy predictions are limited to Latin America and the Caribbean; most regions in the world are grappling with economic and social insecurities that have been augmented by the constant threat of Covid – 19 and its ever evolving new variants. While the global north is gearing up to provide booster shots to their populations and those in the south are yet to vaccinate large majorities of their population; it would be wrong to single out only Latin America and the Caribbean that would be suffering the consequences of the Omicron variant.
However, it is true that the pressure of this variant will definitely add to the already struggling polities, societies, and economies of the region. With such a backdrop of a very obvious dark cloud of the new Covid variant, this piece attempts to explore the prominent themes that will possibly be highlighted in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022.
Beginning with politics, every few years the world gets obsessed with either the beginning or the culmination of a new ‘pink’ tide in Latin America. The Pink in the Pink Tide is an acceptable shade of the originally ‘red’ left in the proverbial American backyard. This palatable shade of Pink is emblematic of governments that are often termed as the Left of Centre, focused on socialist fundamentals, social spending, and welfare. While the election results in this cycle almost provide favourable settings for the declaration of a Pink Latin America; they don’t quite hit the mark. The region has often been characterized by its contradictions and this election cycle is not devoid of such wonderful conundrums either. While Honduras, Peru, and most recently Chile have elected Presidents that can be placed on the spectrum towards the left in varying degrees; and Argentina has continued with Fernandez and Bolivia elected another indigenous leader immediately after Evo Morales; they all come with caveats.
The Peruvian President has been quite vocal about being ruthlessly tough on immigrants and has shown no signs of softening the Peruvian stance on homosexuality and /or reproductive rights of women. The Boric Gabriel in Chile, is yet to deliver on his campaign promises and it still remains to be seen as to how he effectively marries the economic interests with social ones. Alberto Fernandez’ party that narrowly won the provincial elections is already showing signs of a split and in all probability, he seems like a one – term president despite being the one to leagalise abortions a year ago.
Moreover, one only has to look towards Central America and Venezuela to realise that authoritarianism is alive and well in the region. Daniel Ortega, Nayib Bukele, and Nicolas Maduro are the pillars of authoritarianism in the region that refuse to fall. The people seem to be too exhausted and terrified to protest or fight. It would be harsh to colour the lack of popular protest in authoritarian countries as surrender; it must be studied with the understanding of the regions history of death squads and torture and little compunction about political assassinations.
The existence of Gabriel Boric who represents change and popular will, and Nicolas Maduro who represents the oppression, and autocracy in the same region at the same time points not to the convenience of an all-encompassing wave but towards a need for greater understanding of individual countries.
As Brazil and Colombia head towards Presidential elections, it seems like a probable victory for Lula in Brazil, and Gustavo Petro in Colombia who is rapidly becoming a favourite. While Lula’s return seems certain in Brazil, it won’t be wrong to expect Jair Bolsonaro to adopt Trump-like tactics for violence and disruption; however, Bolsonaro doesn’t enjoy a support base as loyal, blind, and large as Trump in the US.
Colombian politics on the other hand is responding to the protests that were seen in the country these past two years. Colombia has been a largely conservative country; however, the people’s outbursts about increasing taxes and reducing social spending and the protests in Chile have inspired the people to see a potential leader in Petro. The polls suggest that he would garner 43 per cent of the votes in the first primary which is not enough to ward off a second primary but it would not be far sighted to say that Petro might just win the race.
2021 wasn’t too abysmal for Latin America. The region showed some signs of improvement as the world started to put in place systems that could function with the Pandemic restrictions. As these systems came into place; Latin American economies also began to find their feet and begin stabilizing. While no country in the world has reached their pre-Covid levels of growth, and the same goes for Latin America; 2021 saw the Latin American economies recovering in a way that was better than the one predicted.
However, economists suggest a slight slowdown again. This would be attributed to statistical adjustments that happen after an initial bang, while the increase in growth rate that happened in 2021 was encouraging. It was also exaggerated statistically as the reference point became the year 2020 when the world had come to a complete halt. Therefore in 2022, when the point of reference is 2021; the slight statistical shrinking of Latin American economies is a mathematical inevitability.
The Caribbean on the other hand is all set to see rapid increase in growth rates and over all economies as it is set to become the new energy destination of the world. With Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Barbados discovering crude oil and natural gas in their waters, companies like Total, Shell, and Exxonmobil have flocked to the region and the Caribbean is set to become the new oil destination in the near future. This would certainly lead to a strengthening and burgeoning of the economies of the region; however, the political interaction with major multinational oil companies and state sovereignty over their own resources is a separate topic for discussion.
Social unrest seems to be a predictable outcome for the region in 2022. The impact that protest movements can have on the politics of the region has been demonstrated quite well in the past two years. However, as the people demand greater progressive change for a society more equal than the one they grew up in; the values of political, religious, and economic conservatism are set to clash with the values of the majority of the workforce that demand gainful employment, job security, equality of income, gender, and sexuality. While the politics is difficult to categorise under one term the demands that are being made by voters aged 18 to 40 who also make up the majority of the workforce can be termed as the ‘Millennial Left’ demands. They want a society that is progressive, tolerant, and accepting. A society more equal with opportunities for growth. A voice for women and minorities, and equality of opportunity for those who have been marginalized for generations.
As Latin America and the Caribbean enter the New Year it would be interesting to see how they match their expectations with their reality.
(The Author is an Asst. Professor at the dept. for Public Policy, Amity University and has a Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).