Latin America in 2019: Stories to watch | News


Within the final 12 months, Latin America has seen a sequence of high-stakes elections, the Worldwide Financial Fund (IMF) ship its biggest-ever bailout bundle and Venezuela’s financial collapse explode into probably the most extreme migration disaster within the area’s historical past.

As nationalists take the reigns of the area’s two largest economies and corruption scandals proceed to canine politicians from Mexico Metropolis to Montevideo, listed below are the tales to look out for in 2019.

1. Brazil’s Bolsonaro shakes issues up

January 1 noticed Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s first right-wing president because the nation’s 1964-1985 navy dictatorship, assume workplace. 

The controversial former navy captain made a sequence of disparaging remarks about ladies, LGBT individuals and black Brazilians, worrying many who social insurance policies could also be rolled again beneath his presidency. The fears appeared well-founded as Bolsonaro issued a sequence of govt orders impinging on the rights of minorities as one among his first acts as president.

Bolsonaro’s first week in workplace has additionally seen the pinnacle of the nation’s environmental safety company resign following criticism from the president and troops deployed to cease prison assaults within the northern metropolis of Fortaleza. 

Jair Bolsonaro has courted controversy by criticising minorities [File: Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo]

His pledge to maneuver Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has additionally raised eyebrows in a rustic which is the world’s largest exporter of halal meat. 

Supporters are hopeful, nevertheless, that Bolsonaro can sort out rampant corruption and crack down on crime in Brazil, which noticed a report 63,880 homicides in 2017 and Bolsonaro himself stabbed on the marketing campaign path. 

The appointment of a graduate of the College of Chicago – whose alumni reformed Chile’s financial system beneath dictator Augusto Pinochet – as financial system minister has additionally raised investor hopes that Bolsonaro’s Brazil will probably be good for enterprise.

2. A Mexican maverick makes his mark 

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist, turned Mexico’s new president in December, however even earlier than coming into workplace, AMLO, as he’s identified, was making his affect felt and inflicting a headache for traders.

In October, the then-president-elect stated the way forward for a multibillion-dollar airport challenge close to Mexico Metropolis can be determined in a public referendum. Lower than one p.c of the voters took half within the four-day vote, which rejected the continuation of the challenge.

Mexico’s new chief is seen as a wild card by many [File: Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

AMLO has vowed to honour the outcomes of the referendum, placing his administration on a collision course with traders and inflicting the peso to plunge. 

Tackling the acute violence that has plagued Mexico for greater than a decade is excessive on AMLO’s agenda, along with his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto receiving harsh criticism for his failure to handle the gang-and-drugs-related bloodshed. 

“Delivering on that entrance will probably be fairly onerous for AMLO within the coming yr as a result of state governments and native governments are in on it with a variety of the cartels they usually profit, so it’ll be fairly onerous for him to crack down on that with no full purge of the political class of Mexico’s varied ranges of presidency,” Max Klaver, senior analyst a Overseas Temporary, a geopolitical threat evaluation web site, advised Al Jazeera.

The brand new administration may also be judged on the way it tackles migration.

Throughout his marketing campaign, AMLO promised to enhance job prospects in Mexico in order that migration can be “an choice, not a necessity” and, in a transfer which possible happy his northern neighbour, the Mexican president made a cope with leaders from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to create a fund to stem the move of US-bound migrants one among his first acts in workplace.

three. Venezuela plunges deeper into disaster

Tons of of hundreds of individuals fled Venezuela’s deepening financial disaster final yr, whereas widespread shortages of meals and medication made day by day life a wrestle for individuals who remained. 

“Venezuelans are dropping their buying energy each day and the dearth of entry to meals has brought about malnutrition,” Venezuelan journalist Nayrobis Rodriguez advised Al Jazeera.

With the IMF predicting an inflation fee of 10,000,000 p.c in 2019 and President Nicolas Maduro persevering with in charge the financial disaster on an “imperialist conspiracy”, the state of affairs is prone to deteriorate even additional within the subsequent 12 months. 

Hundreds of thousands have fled Venezuela because the disaster started in 2015 [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Nevertheless, as migrants and refugees stream into neighbouring nations, the regional response is starting to develop enamel.

In September, seven nations introduced a petition to the Worldwide Prison Court docket (ICC) to research Maduro for crimes towards humanity, whereas Colombia’s Ivan Duque, whose nation has accepted probably the most Venezuelans because the disaster started in 2015, continues to butt heads with the Colombian president in an more and more bitter confrontation. 

January 10 will see Maduro start his second six-year time period in workplace regardless of a dozen Latin American nations and Canada saying they won’t recognise Maduro’s new mandate, which was gained in a vote largely boycotted by the opposition and deemed illegitimate by the worldwide neighborhood. 

four. Migration strains relations

The US enters 2019 locked right into a authorities shutdown centred on funding for President Donald Trump’s wall on the border with Mexico. 

Migration has taken centre stage in US politics in latest months as Trump sought to sow concern over the hundreds of Central American migrants and refugees who made their approach to the border to use for asylum.

The query of the place the migrants will wait out the asylum course of has positioned a pressure on the US’s relationship with Mexico.

Regardless of Trump’s robust stance on migration, home instability and violence in a number of Central American nations are prone to proceed to pressure individuals to go away their properties in 2019.

Political and financial instability are forcing individuals from their properties in Central America [File: Adrees Latif/Reuters]

“Because the political and financial conditions in a variety of Central American nations worsen, and as US insurance policies in the direction of a variety of these nations grow to be a bit extra draconian and catalyse the issues that trigger migration within the first place, I believe it follows that migration will possible improve from these nations,” analyst Max Klaver stated.

Regional ties are additionally set to be more and more strained by massive numbers of individuals crossing into neighbouring nations to flee the crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua, with public backlash anticipated to extend as public providers in host nations wrestle to deal with the inflow of latest arrivals.

5. Macri fights to outlive Argentina’s financial disaster

The Argentine peso misplaced a 3rd of its worth in 2018, prompting protests towards austerity measures and a staggering $57bn bailout bundle from the IMF – the most important ever given by the worldwide physique.

After such dramatic upheaval, the financial system is prone to be on voter’s minds as they head to the polls in October’s presidential election. 

Although embroiled in a myriad of ongoing corruption investigations, together with one involving billions of in bribes for public works contracts, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner stays in style with voters and is anticipated to be President Mauricio Macri’s primary competitors come October.

2018 noticed Argentina enter its worst recession in virtually a decade [File: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters]

Nicolas Saldias, a researcher on the Washington, DC-based Wilson Middle specializing in Argentine politics and economics, stated that the advantages of the IMF bundle may not come shortly sufficient to persuade voters to again Macri.

“The financial system is doing very badly, Macri is coping with the worst recession since at the very least 2009 and the nation in 2019 will solely be recovering, it will not truly be rising,” Saldias stated.

“If the financial system begins to develop within the second half of the yr, that can give Macri some goodwill. If there is a robust sufficient restoration, it should definitely assist President Macri […] if the financial system’s doing higher, he could possibly pull out a victory within the second spherical in November,” he advised Al Jazeera.

6. Nicaragua’s crackdown continues

Widespread protests rocked the presidency of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in April, shortly turning lethal as the federal government started a violent crackdown on dissent.

“Nicaragua is experiencing one of many worst human rights disaster in its latest historical past,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty Worldwide, advised Al Jazeera.

Not less than 322 individuals have been killed since protests started, principally by brokers of the state or pro-government armed teams, and greater than 2,000 individuals have been injured, in response to Amnesty. Hundreds extra have fled, principally to neighbouring Costa Rica.

Greater than 300 individuals have been killed since protests started in April, in response to Amnesty Worldwide [File: Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters]

Ortega has stated “thieves” and “coup-mongers” are answerable for the unrest, sending journalists and protesters to jail on “terrorism” costs.

Because the state of affairs on the bottom turns into more and more harmful, authorities repression reveals no indicators of easing.

“Over the past weeks, many well-known human rights organisations have been shut down and their leaders persecuted by the federal government. Unbiased media shops have been closed as properly, and journalists have been criminalised or pressured to go away the nation,” Guevara-Rosas stated.

“Given the dearth of political will and the negligent denial by the federal government of the intense human rights violations occurring within the nation, it’s anticipated that the state of affairs will worsen.

“With the suspension of human rights organisations and different civil society teams, there aren’t any monitoring mechanisms and different types of accountability out there to residents in Nicaragua”.

7. Cuba braces for change

In April 2018, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez turned the primary particular person exterior the Castro household to guide Cuba because the nation’s revolution six a long time in the past. 

Regardless of widespread use of the “#Somoscontinuidad” (“We’re continuity”) hashtag by Diaz-Canel and his ministers, there have been varied indications that change could also be afoot on the Communist-run island.

In December alone, the federal government reversed or delayed three controversial proposals after unprecedented public pushback in a rustic the place, for many years, the federal government has issued most legal guidelines and rules with little public debate.

Cubans have been discussing a draft structure forward of a referendum in February [File: Tomas Bravo/Reuters]

Cubans will get their say once more in a public referendum on the brand new structure, scheduled for February 24.

Broadly seen as a method of invigorating Cuba’s crumbling financial system, which recorded a meagre 1.2 p.c development in 2018 and has comparable projections for subsequent yr, the reforms – if handed – can be probably the most vital political change in Cuba for greater than 4 a long time.

Nevertheless, human rights organisations and analysts have raised questions on how a lot change is feasible whereas the inflexible one-party system stays in place and lots of points of life on the island stay beneath state management.

“It’s much like passing laws within the US that everybody will personal a home with out the federal government having the monetary means to supply it. With out main modifications to the system […] Cuba will stay a rustic struggling to develop,” stated Carlos Seigle, a professor of economics at Rutgers College.

eight. A check for Bolivia’s Morales

Evo Morales has led Bolivia since 2006. As its first indigenous president, he’s a political icon within the Andean nation, celebrated for extending the enfranchisement of the majority-indigenous inhabitants and bettering the financial system by way of partial nationalisation of the oil and gasoline sector.

Nevertheless, Morales’s status has taken a beating lately after he requested the Supreme Court docket to nullify the outcomes of a 2016 referendum, which rejected his bid to run for a fourth time period. The establishment, which is tightly sure to the presidency, went a step additional and scrapped time period limits altogether for each political workplace within the nation.

Protests towards Evo Morales have grown forward of October’s presidential elections [File: David Mercado/Reuters]

Morales is now up for re-election in October, however the street forward appears rocky as opposition is rising, together with amongst a few of his supporters. 

Journalist and political analyst Raul Penaranda advised Al Jazeera that by ignoring the referendum outcome and working once more, Morales is undermining the democracy he championed throughout his early administrations and the structure that he himself created.

“What he has proven is that he doesn’t consider in democracy and he doesn’t consider within the in style vote,” Penaranda stated. 

9. Worldwide scandals

Corruption isn’t removed from the headlines in Latin America, however 2018 was notable for the variety of distinguished figures who got here beneath investigation as far-reaching corruption probes across the area widened their nets.

Extra of the identical is anticipated within the subsequent 12 months as each Bolsonaro and AMLO dig in on marketing campaign guarantees to quash corruption of their nations and ongoing investigations in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia are anticipated to succeed in their conclusions.

Outstanding figures in Brazil, Argentina and Peru headed to courtroom in 2018 over corruption costs [File: Mariana Bazo/Reuters]

Guatemala has already made headlines for expelling a UN-backed anti-corruption fee – which has been investigating President Jimmy Morales – from the nation in January.

“If we’re searching for silver linings, I believe it has been good to see that there was a really strong and provoking mobilisation of citizen activism demanding justice and demanding accountability on behalf of their elected officers,” stated analyst Max Klaver.

“I anticipate that that is what we’ll proceed to see, however these are points which are actually woven into the political material of a variety of these nations. I believe within the subsequent yr and past there’ll most likely be extra issues will probably be uncovered and this possible goes deeper than it already is … and it is fairly deep already,” he advised Al Jazeera.

In the meantime, in Chile, an unprecedented investigation into historic sexual abuse by the nation’s Catholic Church – now the most important clerical intercourse abuse and canopy up probe in Latin American historical past – will probably be turning up the warmth forward of the Vatican’s anti-abuse summit scheduled for February.

10. China extends its affect

Chinese language funding in Latin America and the Caribbean has elevated exponentially within the final decade or so, with direct funding surging from lower than $50bn in 2006 to virtually $250bn in 2017, in response to the Brookings Institute, a Washington, DC-based think-tank. 

US disengagement with the area, together with its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has made area for a brand new international energy to spend money on much-needed infrastructure tasks and China has stepped as much as the plate, providing the area a spot in President Xi Jinping’s trademark One Belt, One Street initiative.

“Trump’s continued and/or elevated antagonism in the direction of Latin American nations might push key economies, particularly Mexico and Colombia, to hunt stronger relations with China,” Max Nathanson, international enterprise supervisor for the governor of Colorado and a former analysis fellow at American College’s China-Latin America Sustainable Investments Initiative advised Al Jazeera.

President Xi Jinping made an historic journey to Panama in December after the nations established diplomatic ties a yr earlier [File: Carlos Jasso/Reuters]

China is now a number one business companion for a number of Latin American nations together with Brazil, Argentina and Chile, however issues are mounting over the attainable diplomatic affect of accelerating Sino-Latin American relations.

In 2018, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic lower ties with Taiwan and established full relations with China. Nearly all of Taiwan’s 17 remaining diplomatic allies are small cash-strapped nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, all of whom might come beneath rising Chinese language affect within the yr forward.

Beijing additionally performs a key position in propping up Maduro’s authorities in Venezuela by way of funding in its oil sector, however as costs fluctuate and the nation turns into extra unstable, this may increasingly change.

“It seems that its business relationship with Caracas has to date been prioritised over human rights issues, but when the Venezuelan oil ceases to be worthwhile, China could change course,” Nathanson stated.

Different tales to observe:

Ladies round Latin America having been protesting towards violence and restrictive abortion legal guidelines as a part of the #NiUnaMenos motion [File: Tomas F Cuesta/AP Photo]

All through the area, the #NiUnaMenos (Not One Girl Much less) motion reveals no indicators of slowing down as ladies’s rights activists push again towards widespread violence towards ladies and restrictive abortion legal guidelines in a number of nations. 

In Colombia, Ivan Duque will proceed struggling to unite a rustic nonetheless divided over a peace cope with FARC rebels, whereas additionally battling the nation’s remaining armed teams and making an attempt to place a lid on drug trafficking. 

Together with Bolivia and Argentina, El Salvador and Uruguay may also head to the polls to decide on new presidents in 2019. 


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