Friday, November 15, 2013

The elections ahead in Latin America

(My new American Thinker post)

You will be reading a lot about elections in Latin America.  It is a sign of political maturity but there are challenges ahead, as Mr Ernesto Talvi of The Brookings Institute reminded us this week:   

"The new wave of leaders to be elected in the next 14 months will have to deal with a more adverse external environment, stricter financial constraints and significant economic challenges. Reigniting growth will require domestic transformations that are politically complex (e.g., education reform in Mexico) and take time to produce effects.  At the same time, preserving macroeconomic stability and fiscal probity at a time when a dissatisfied electorate, with high expectations due to a decade of very high growth, will put pressure on governments to accommodate immediate popular demands at the expense of sound policies. How these tensions are resolved will be key in determining the economic prospects of the region in the coming years.   
On the other hand, democracy itself faces major challenges. Although they no longer benefit from the tailwinds provided by a decade of economic exuberance and in spite of a loss in popularity, incumbents and familiar faces are still favored to win upcoming elections. Given the level of dissatisfaction registered in public opinion polls, the predicted outcomes reflect the power of incumbency across Latin America and the Caribbean.  In a small number of states this is the result of creeping authoritarianism. In others, electoral rules and campaign finance laws may need reform to ensure a scrupulously level playing field for all political contenders.    
Moreover, dramatic levels of criminal violence in Mexico, Central America, Venezuela and some Caribbean island states have heightened public concern not only over personal safety but over the capacity of organized crime to challenge the institutional power of the state. As a result, there is already an increasing diversity of policy responses to criminal violence and organized crime. Mexico's new administration has reconsidered confrontational tactics against organized crime. Colombia, Guatemala and Uruguay have raised questions on the global consensus on drug policy and called for greater attention to the possibility of decriminalizing some narcotics. El Salvador has experimented with fostering a truce among its highly violent gangs, raising the possibility that governments may facilitate agreements among criminals to reduce conflict, in spite of the impact this may have on the rule of law. The lack of success of many existing counternarcotic and anti-organized crime efforts in the region will only prompt further experimentation by governments, with uncertain outcomes.    
Finally, the region enters into this electoral cycle increasingly divided geopolitically, with the members of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico) deepening their commitment to free trade, free markets and a fluent relationship with the U.S., while the large members of Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela) remain committed to protectionism and to a more adversarial relationship with the U.S.   
To summarize, the region is at a decisive juncture. For better or worse, in the next decade we will witness the emergence of a very different Latin America than the Latin America we saw in the previous one."  

Mr Talvi is correct. We will see a very different Latin America over the next decade.   

There are some positives, like the economy of Chile, the turnaround in Colombia and President Pena-Nieto of Mexico tackling teachers' unions and the oil monopoly.   

There are some challenges close to home, such as cartels in Central America, the coming implosion in Venezuela, the uncertainty of a post-Castro Cuba and the crisis in Argentina.   

We are not sure how everything will turn out. Some countries will do well, others won't and some will surprise us, such as Peru's free market reforms.  

We do need an American president who is engaged, interested and committed to expanding commerce with Latin America. We don't have that in President Obama.  

Let's hope that it changes after 2016.    

P. S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.

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