Although Latin America is very heterogeneous and complex, the headlines that reflected the events in the region during the year that is ending can be summarized in a dozen, one per month, which remain as a summary of what happened while dictating the agenda for 2023.
According to the CAF-Development Bank, while the richest 10% of the region’s population takes 55% of the income and 77% of the wealth, the poorest 50% receives 10% of the income and only 1% of the wealth. This inequality is stubbornly transmitted from generation to generation and undermines the social foundations of the political order.
In its annual report Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC projects that regional growth next year will be one-third of the rate expected for 2022. In a context of external uncertainties and domestic constraints, Latin American and Caribbean countries will grow by 3.7% in 2022, just over half the 6.7% rate recorded in 2021. The slowdown in economic growth is expected to deepen in 2023, reaching a rate of 1.3%.
Without having closed the data for 2022, the trend of homicide rates exceeding 20 persons per 100,000 inhabitants continues in Venezuela, Honduras, Colombia, and Mexico, and is approaching that figure in Brazil and El Salvador. The persistence of organized crime linked to drug trafficking, but also to illegal mining and human trafficking is the cause of the rampant insecurity and a sign of the failure of states with diminished capacities and the existence of gray zones in which the state is absent.
Migratory movements continue to have a notable presence. Countries such as Venezuela, with more than six million emigrants, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Cuba led the diaspora. In the last three years, the number of Nicaraguans living outside the country grew from 10% of its total population to 17%. Since 2018, 154,000 Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica, and in 2022 more than 180,000 immigrated to the United States, so did nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2% of the island’s 11 million inhabitants, constituting the greatest threat to the future of the country that is depopulating as a low birth rate occurs simultaneously.
Gender parity is far from being achieved in the executive branch in the region, while progress is slow in the legislative branch. Only two women are presidents: Xiomara Castro came to power as the wife of a former president who in reality manages the levers of power in Honduras, and Dina Boluarte came to power as vice president after the dismissal of the Peruvian president.
Support and satisfaction with democracy continue to fall. In Peru, which has suffered one of the most acute political crises through 2022, according to the Americas’ Barometer, support for democracy fell from 63% in 2008 to 50% in 2021, while satisfaction with democracy fell from 52% in 2012 to 21% in 2021. In addition, more than 88% believe that more than half or all politicians are corrupt. These data are shared with minimal differences across the region.
Although Costa Rica continues to rank among the top three Latin American countries in most indices measuring democracy performance, in April, Rodrigo Chavez, who had lived several decades outside the country and had only brief political experience as a minister in the outgoing government, was elected president with meager partisan support. His inexperience and demagogic verbiage are leading the country into a scenario of uneasiness.
Gustavo Petro is the character of the year in Colombia, not only because he is the first leftist president in the country’s history, but also because since before his victory at the polls he had marked the national political agenda in a very intense way and, not infrequently, also in a very controversial way. The opening of negotiations with the last living guerrilla group in Latin America, the ELN, is also an important milestone.
While Lula was shaping a government that will once again have almost forty ministerial portfolios to meet the requirements of the coalition presidentialism that is so firmly established in the country, Bolsonaro spoke in public on December 9, after 37 days without his voice being heard, in a 15-minute speech before supporters crowded in front of the Alvorada Palace, the presidential residence. Bolsonaro’s resistance to accepting Lula’s electoral victory continues to encourage polarization in the country.
In Argentina, after a year in which inflation approached 100%, the six-year prison sentence communicated on December 6 that buried the presidential aspirations of Cristina Fernandez, the subject of an assassination attempt in September, has been compounded by a severe two-way crisis starring the confrontation between the City of Buenos Aires and the federal government and by the clash between the Executive and the Judiciary. The vice president said that she was the victim of a “judicial mafia” whose only objective was to proscribe her from politics, pointing out that there was no “resignation, nor self-exclusion [but] proscription”. For its part, the Supreme Court ruling brings one more conflict to the pre-electoral climate of 2023.
Three months after the defeat in the plebiscite, President Boric has managed to promote a mechanism to give continuity to the constitutional reform process truncated by the negative result of the plebiscite held in September. Bypassing the tensions between the ruling party and the opposition that prevented it from moving forward, a new Constitutional Council composed of 50 popularly elected representatives and 24 experts will be elected next April. The text elaborated will be ratified by another plebiscite in November.
Authoritarianism is entrenched in Nicaragua and Venezuela, while Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are drifting in a regional context of exhausted democracies. Presidential and legislative elections will be held in Paraguay, Guatemala, and Argentina in 2023, and municipal elections in Ecuador and Colombia. In Peru, they are scheduled to be held in April 2024 unless the crisis currently invading the country forces them to be held earlier.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva