What is the political outlook in Latin America? Will Brazil’s Congress continue to govern independent of the erratic, but somewhat business-friendly President Jair Bolsonaro? Will Mexico’s nationalist-leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (popularly known as AMLO) try to extend his power? Will Argentina’s new president Alberto Fernandez govern independently of his vice president Cristina Kirchner? Will Colombia become a new Chile in terms of riots? What will happen in Chile this year? And will Peru be able to return to political stability?
Latinvex asked two leading experts on Latin American politics.
Michael E. Shifter is the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue, an Adjunct Professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Christopher Sabatini is senior fellow for Latin America at London-based Chatham House, a former lecturer in discipline in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University and a member of the advisory boards of Harvard University’s LASPAU and the Inter-American Foundation.
Latinvex: How do you view the overall political outlook in Latin America?
Shifter: All five countries have experienced major disruptions in their politics and economies in past few years, and are confronting ongoing or potential crises in the coming period. Uncertainty dominates the landscape and prediction is harder than ever. If the economies continue to stagnate it is reasonable to suggest that the politics of virtually every country will almost surely become more difficult.
Latinvex: How do you view the political outlook in Mexico? Will AMLO try to change the constitution and try to run for re-election?
Sabatini: AMLO will remain popular for the foreseeable future, not because of his successes—which will be few—but because of his ability to control the political narrative, the politicization of key social safety programs and the disarray of the opposition. He may very well want to run for re-election, but the test will be if “continuismo” remains as much of a third rail in Mexican politics as it has historically. AMLO’s ability to overturn that will depend to a fair degree on the state of the opposition.
Shifter: AMLO is doing well politically, maintaining high levels of popular support and control of Congress through [his political party] Morena. Objective measures are not, however, encouraging. The economy is barely growing and levels of violence are on the rise. There has been little institutional progress in dealing with corruption. The opposition is extremely weak, there are deep crises in the PRI and PAN, with scant prospects for renewal any time soon. If Mexico begins to grow at rates AMLO initially promised, the political outlook could improve, but a series of government decisions early on significantly eroded investor confidence, and the radical shift in energy policy has been especially concerning for the private sector. Lack of growth will make it more difficult for AMLO to achieve the sweeping, structural changes he seeks, the so-called Fourth Transformation. Although AMLO has concentrated political power in his hands and will do what he can to make sure Morena sustains his ambitious political project, it is doubtful he will try to change the constitution to allow re-election. Legislative elections in July 2021 will offer some indication of where the politics are heading in Mexico.
Latinvex: How do you view the political outlook in Argentina? What role will Cristina Kirchner have?
Next year, critical elections in Latin America’s three most populous countries—Colombia, Mexico and Brazil—are likely to reveal a distemper stemming from citizen disgust with a mix of corruption scandals, mediocre economies, unremitting violence and a largely discredited political class. All three presidential contests are wide open and ripe for anti-establishment challengers.
In these interviews with Joachim Bamrud for Latinvex, Michael Shifter discusses the political outlook for Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, three countries in which upcoming 2018 presidential elections are still very uncertain.