2016: A Year of Turbulences That Have Just Begun

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As it has become tradition, the poll conducted by Grupo de Diarios América (GDA) on the leading figures and news of 2016 is a great opportunity to review the passing year and analyze scenarios for the future. This reflection has become practically a necessity, given the scope of the transformations seen in 2016. As the poll indicates, the epicenter of this global shake-up has been Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton. The multimillionaire and reality TV star connected with the demand for change of a significant part of the American electorate. With a polarizing political discourse, sometimes openly racist and unacceptably sexist, Trump turned on their heads the traditional rules of how a candidate to the White House should behave.

Trump’s ascent to the Presidency brings significant uncertainty to Latin America, as well as possible changes in the region’s relationship with Washington. During the presidential campaign, for instance, Trump attacked immigrants, especially those of Mexican origin; promised to build a Wall in the southern border of the United States and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants; and pledged to renegotiate NAFTA, a free trade agreement that represents more than 80 percent of Mexico’s total trade. Trump also promised to scrap TPP, a trade deal negotiated for years under Barack Obama that included more than 40 percent of the world’s GDP and involved several Latin American countries. Yet, it is a mystery how much of Trump’s electoral promises he will be able –or willing—to honor. Although there are indications that he will be more pragmatic as president than as a candidate, the number of doubts vastly outnumber the certainties.

Just as the GDA projections for 2017 anticipate, Trump’s triumph is also significant because it is part of a global trend towards ultra nationalism, protectionism and a rejection of the liberal order built after World War II. Trump’s victory, Europe’s refusal to accept desperate refugees fleeing Syria, Brexit and the rise of the far-right in France mark the beginning of a new era. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who announced her intentions to run for a fourth term next year, seems to be the only global leader willing to defend that liberal order, and has for now been able to contain the rise of the far-right in her country.

In a convulsed world, Latin America had one of the few good news stories of the year: Colombia has achieved a peace that, though divisive and fragile, is likely irreversible. President Juan Manuel Santos, chosen as GDA’s Latin American person of 2016, spent his entire political capital in pursuing an agreement with the FARC, which Colombian voters rejected in a very tight plebiscite held on October 2. Reenergized after winning the Nobel Peace Price, Santos renegotiated the deal to address some objections of the No campaign, led by former president and ex Santos ally Alvaro Uribe, and got it approved by Congress. Implementing this new agreement will, however, be a daunting task. Colombia might have achieved peace, but at a high price in terms of social polarization and tension.

Despite economic stagnation, political turmoil and the appalling crisis in Venezuela, Latin America remains one of the few calm areas in a turbulent world. The death of Fidel Castro, an icon for the anti-US left, marked the end of the 20th century in the region, and further accentuated its turn towards pragmatism and political moderation. A major question for 2017 is whether this tendency will hold in countries such as Argentina and Brazil, where it is being challenged by citizen’s unrest and mobilizations, especially in the latter case. Further, given regional political and economic conditions, a return of Latin American populism cannot be ruled out. Countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia will elect a new president in 2018, and electoral campaigns will consume most of 2017. The results of those elections will give us a clearer picture of where region is heading politically.

At the global level, the situation is even less encouraging. The slow but steady progress towards economic integration, respect for the rules of democracy and cultural and social pluralism has suffered a severe setback, and in fact might have stopped. Further, the international order based on the United States’ engaged leadership seems to be ending. What will replace them remains unclear.

This article was originally written in Spanish for El Tiempo

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