Monday, April 17, 2017

The Implosion of South America

"South America is part of a global pattern, marked by a search for fresh and effective political leadership in agitated and often polarized societies."
"The region has a strong tradition of protest that tends to come in waves -- and is particularly pronounced when long-standing deficiencies are revealed."
Michael Shifter, president, Inter-American Dialogue, Washington

"The narrative [of populist leaders] was that the rich had always controlled institutions and the law for their own benefit, and the proposal was: Now we will take over the institutions and use them for the common good."
"But the reality turned out to be more of the same, only with different faces at the helm."
"Institutions and laws are still being used to project rather than to limit power, and to protect the powerful from those who would challenge them."
Gabriela Calderon, Latin America analyst, Cato Institute, Washington

"Anger over corruption is really the one thing that unites Latin Americans right now."
"[Partially a reaction to the economic downturn] but it's also the product of a middle class that has grown by 50 million people over the last decade."
"[Those families] are paying taxes now and they care about good governance. And they are smart enough to know that's impossible unless the old way of doing politics in Latin America changes."
Brian Winter, editor, Americas Quarterly journal
Gaby Arellano, deputy of the Venezuelan Coalition of Opposition Parties, clashes with national guards during a rally against President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas on April 1. (Marco Bello/Reuters)
From Venezuela to Paraguay, Argentina to Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia, street protests of large and angry dimensions have erupted. Government incumbents have suffered low approval ratings as economies see slow growth and people are fed up with corruption scandals eating away at every South American government. One-time big-spending leaders who had the approval of the electorate, spent less with the economic downturn hitting the region, losing the fickle support of people finding themselves in hard financial straits.

Opponents of the leftists, of the charisma and the tattered promises of those who had dominated elections in the past decade, no longer view them as the defenders of the poor and the downtrodden. From the leader of the 'Bolivarian revolution' Hugo Chavez in a firestorm of a new political direction ousting the right-wing dictators of old, Brazil's Lula da Silva, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Argentine's Nestor and Christina Kirchner who ruled and misruled, losing the trust and affection of those they had successfully wooed.

Furious protesters in Paraguay firebombed the parliament buildings in response to lawmakers' efforts  to alter presidential term limits, an initiative that began in Moscow, then in Turkey, in South Africa, and wherever else brutal egoists ruled the roost. In Argentina, unions held a general strike that wounded the transportation networks. Governments, left and right in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and French Guiana have been met with major demonstrations following plunging approval ratings.

Gone, the commodity boom that brought millions of South Americans toward middle class status. Government finances have been snipped short. While a citizenry now accustomed to faster communications and information sharing on the Internet, and with concomitant greater political interest and engagement, is holding their governments up to damning scrutiny and demands that corruption be halted, and democracy restored.

South America has become unstable, thanks to the spread of an economic malaise. Global prices for oil, iron ore and other export commodities that typified the region's exports kept treasuries nice and fat when free spending ensured populist leaders had the support to remain in power. The nationalistic appeal of personalities larger than life, brought support of increased government size and continued state-owned industries with their inept administrations.

It's one thing to gain a population's support by promising change and increasing their opportunities to advance their situations in life. Entirely different when those advances are seen to be in jeopardy and those who enjoyed improved living conditions find them slipping away. That's when people, deprived of what they have come to depend on, begin to look more closely at the regimes they've supported that have stopped supporting them.

It's when corruption becomes more glaring and the ineptitude of government to sustain the economy elicits a roar of rage.

A man sprayed with tear gas is carried away from protests in Caracas on April 13. (Fernando Llano/AP)

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