Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, participated in the forum “New Forms of Solidarity: Towards Fraternal Inclusion, Integration and Innovation” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at Casina Pio IV in the Vatican. Shifter discussed during this intervention the causes and motivations for the protests seen in Latin America in 2019, what to expect for 2020, and the role of multilateral organizations in this context. Dialogue Members Alicia Bárcena and Enrique V. Iglesias also participated in the forum.
Comments by Michael Shifter:
“What we saw at the end of 2019 in Latin America is not exclusive to the region, we have seen a lot of unrest globally, but what we saw in Latin America was particularly intense and bigger than what we have seen in recent memory.”
“Looking at 2020, it will be surprising if a lot of this turmoil did not continue because a lot of the underlying causes remain”.
“The cases in each country are very different, and it will be a mistake to lump them together and say that there is one single explanation. Nonetheless, there are recurring problems that one can see in many countries: economic stagnation, politicized judiciaries, corruption, crime, in a few cases authoritarian rule, and two features which are common to the region as a whole: inequality and the disconnect between political institutions and leaders and society in general.”
“Last year we produced a book at the Dialogue titled ‘Unfulfilled Promises: Latin America Today’. If you read the book you see a common thread between the six chapters and topics discussed, which is the failure of state capacity, the failure to deliver. Promises, high expectations, but at the end of the day a failure to produce.”
“Legitimacy is increasingly linked to the capacity to deliver what citizens are demanding.”
“It is also important to go beyond economic inequality, which leads to technocratic fixes. These are important but not enough, and they don’t capture a response to what is going on. In Latin America, there is a perception of a lack of fairness, that political and economic elites enjoy a certain set of privileges that have been denied to most citizens.”
“The protests that we saw last year and that we are likely to see this year as well have been amplified by social media to an unprecedented degree.”
“The path to social mobility in the region remains highly precarious. In many countries, especially in South America, there were many gains during the commodity boom, there was an expectation that those advances will continue and that growth will sustain, and they will be able to move up the socio-economic ladder and what we have seen is the contrary.”
“Those that we described as “the new middle classes” have not seen their expectations met as soon as this economic boom ended.”
“The most dramatic example that we have seen is Chile. As we learned by the explosion that nobody predicted in October there are serious deficiencies: health and education, social services, household debt, and most economic and political power remain in the hands of a few. A new generation is demanding fundamental change, and has less fear than previous generations in expressing their discontent.”
“Something to draw attention to is the role of the military in a number of these countries: in Peru, in Ecuador, in Bolivia, in Chile, because of the incapacity of political elites to address fundamental demands. […] The military is playing a role that it should not be playing in a democratic society. That is something to watch out for.”
“Multilateral organizations need a greater understanding of this socio-political dynamics in the region but also they could play a role in organizing a dialogue, finding a way to play a role in such polarized societies.”
“This moment can and should be a catalyst for change. There is an urgent cry that has come from the streets in Latin America, and there is an opportunity to deliver and assume a greater degree of solidarity and responsibility.”
Event coverage in Vatican News (Feb 5, 2020): Pope urges global finance leaders to reduce economic inequality