Sunday, December 31, 2017

Latin American Politics in 2018

It's been a while since I looked at so much upcoming uncertainty for Latin American politics at year's end. 2017 was not a good year politically and is not ending well. Looking forward (in only the literal sense) to 2018, here are some questions and thoughts on the upcoming year.

1. Will the left or right win the Brazilian presidential election? We don't know whether Lula will actually be a candidate. Polls right now show him winning in a second round. If I had to bet, I'd put my money on the left winning, though corruption charges can easily hurt both sides in the months to come.

2. Will AMLO win the Mexican presidential election? A recent poll gave him a slight edge over José Antonio Meade, but he just announced his candidacy so voters still need to get to know him. The PAN doesn't even have a candidate yet, but as a party polls just behind AMLO's MORENA. Its intent to run as a broad coalition muddies the water even more and is still developing. My money right now is on AMLO, particularly since no second round benefits him if the rest of the field is too splintered.

3. Will Trump continue his historic disengagement with Latin America? This is the easiest one. Yes. He likely won't bother to attend the Summit of the Americas and recently demonstrated his complete disinterest in Latin American democracy. His National Security Strategy is clueless about the region. He's gutted his own State Department. The possibility of NAFTA ending is even making Republican Senators nervous. And so on. Trump is giving the equivalent of a big middle finger to the region and it will remain heartily extended.

4. How badly will Venezuela's disintegration look over 2018? There is literally no good news in Venezuela. The government ought to call its new cryptocurrency the Chutzpah. The most likely answer is that the economy will continue to suffer but that Nicolás Maduro will remain in power. There will likely be presidential elections but the opposition will barely be allowed to run and other restrictions will ensure a Chavista victory (most likely Maduro, but who knows). As we saw in Zimbabwe, this kind of regime can sometimes stay in power a long time, as long as the army will allow. We won't likely know when/why the army's attitude will shift.

5. Will Cuba change when Raúl Castro steps down? The answer in the short term is not likely, not at least while Raúl is still alive (and indeed, he may remain somewhere in government for now). Once he dies, then we'll see, but there's a good chance he survives 2018. Those are some long-living genes in that family.

6. How will the Colombian peace process fare, especially given presidential elections? Polls currently don't show any clear favorite among many different possible candidates. One thing to keep in mind is that the FARC effectively prevented a center-left candidate from winning in Colombia for many years. Any such candidate had to fight off accusations of collusion. Now the door is more open, and the Santos government is unpopular, which hurts the center-right. There is a good chance that a center-left candidate wins and remains committed to the peace process, which needs help. Legislative elections will also therefore matter a lot.

7. Will pundits and analysts talk endlessly and mostly uselessly about populism, Iran in Latin America, the "decline" of the left, and the "ascent" of the right? Ugh, yes.


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