#EleccionesAbiertas2018: Earthquake in Brazil and Mexico, tremors in Colombia

The presidential elections in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil were carried out in a context of polarisation and misinformation, alerting us to potential democratic setbacks in the region. Español

democracia Abierta
23 December 2018
PA-32959576 Mexico Earthquake_2.jpg

Fake news, hate speech, and the consolidation of ‘outsider’ type candidates that pit themselves against traditional ways of doing politics were the elements that came together to produce the populist tendencies that have recently taken centre stage in Latin America. 

The strong presidential character of Latin American political systems ensures that the personality of the candidate weighs in more than their respective parties, favouring a dynamic where a connection between a candidate and the people can weaken democratic institutions seen to be against the personable leader.  

Throughout 2018 we’ve seen 3 new presidents win elections in Latin America that are building a path towards a change in the political cycle in the region.

The hopefuls of the pink tide are being left behind, and the uncertainty of the times ahead plague the majority of democracies around the world due to authoritarian tendencies that have recently arisen.

In Colombia, the victory of Duque has consolidated the tradition of the right-wing elite that has been governing the country for decades.

In contrast, the recently inaugurated government of López Obrador in Mexico has one of the most progressive political agendas seen in decades and ends a long cycle of conservative politics in the country, however his demagogy is a worry for democratic institutions. Finally, the worrying victory of Bolsonaro in Brazil represents a hard blow for the left, democracy, and the PT in particular.

It’s in this post-electoral context full of contrasts that we present a brief evaluation of each of the 3 new presidents that will come to define the coming years in Latin America:

Duque: from inefficiency to unpopular 

President Duque completed his first 100 days with an extremely low approval rating. His victory is unquestionable, even though it consolidated the left as a legitimate political opposition in the country for the very first time. He has attempted to face up to the issue of the brutal murders of social leaders, new corruption scandals, and the continuation of the peace agreements for the FARC with little success. 

His leadership has been weakened by the 22 murders of social leaders since he has taken office, an issue which continues to call human rights into question in Colombia.

This context of extreme violence arises in the midst of uncertainty over the lack of political will to implement adequate post conflict policies that can deliver.

Profound corruption scandals such as that of Odebrecht continue to sweep across a government in which even the general prosecutor of the nation may be implicated.

This monumental scandal has already derailed presidents in Brazil, Peru and Panama, and in Colombia it appears the elites continue to be swamped in a problem that corrodes democratic institutions and encourages impunity. 

This monumental scandal has already derailed presidents in Brazil, Peru and Panama, and in Colombia it appears the elites continue to be swamped in a problem that corrodes democratic institutions and encourages impunity. 

Iván Duque hasn’t been able to capitalise on the window of opportunity that the peace agreements have offered, nor the implementation of the post-conflict settlements.

Questioning transitional justice, interrupting dialogue with the ELN, the failure of the reinsertion of ex-guerrillas and the abandoning of territory which has lead to the proliferation of illegal crops, and violence at the hands of criminal groups are a few of the issues that have worsened under his leadership.

Finally, the Colombian president faces a growing opposition that has taken to the streets to decry Duque and whose voices extend to senators and deputies within the government. Everything indicates that we will continue to experience tremors in Colombia in the coming years.

López Obrador, hope, resistance and uncertainty 

The recently inaugurated Mexican president AMLO faces many challenges if he wishes to carry out his campaign promises. The disproportionate expectations that his campaign created, which he refers to as the ‘fourth transformation’, are so high that now he must face growing scepticism.

The pacification of the war on drugs is one of the most urgent and difficult issues of his mandate. The objective to change conditions on the ground with programs such as legalisation of the cultivation of marihuana, or begin a process of amnesty for those imprisoned during the war if they collaborate in the defeat of larger criminal networks contrasts with the militarisation of the security forces also currently under way. This will no doubt put democratic standards at risk.

His ambitious plan intends to put an end to corruption and to move forward with his republican austerity goals. Eliminating all governmental luxuries starting with turning the official residence of the president into a museum open to the public, cutting salaries by 60%, travelling in economy class and selling the presidential plane, are all highly symbolic gestures but are opposed by his political adversaries.

His proposal to reduce public salaries has found resistance among the judges and the judiciary power of the country who have recently challenged this measure in the courts. 

These promises alongside AMLO’s tendency to convoke popular referendums which are questionable in democratic terms show that the obstacles that must be faced are significant. The hope of real change beyond populist gestures remains high, but the AMLO earthquake will experience many counteractions.

Bolsonaro earthquake hits Brazil

With the election of Bolsonaro, referred to as “the myth” by his followers, Brazil fell into a state of shock. The country now left completely polarised and fragmented has seen its main left-wing force crash and burn. 

The unexpected eruption of Bolsonaro represents an earthquake of collosal dimensions and it remains to be seen if the democratic institutions of Brazil are strong enough to contain him. 

The promise to end violence was one of Bolsonaro’s main objectives during his campaign and the terrifying record of 63,880 murders in 2017 is intolerable for obvious reasons. However, it’s not entirely clear that Bolsonaro’s strategy will in fact achieve this through worrying militarisation and arms liberation proposals. 

The figure of Bolsonaro has generated fear among many. In the midst of an open international rejection of racist, homophobic and anti-democratic postures, the eyes of the world are on the president who will be inaugurated in January next year. We must remain alert so that the democratic limits are not crossed and that human rights are respected. 

The declarations of ministers up until now don’t provide many reassurances. We must wait and remain attentive to what could occur next. The unexpected eruption of Bolsonaro represents an earthquake of collosal dimensions and it remains to be seen if the democratic institutions of Brazil are strong enough to contain him. 

This year has left many open questions regarding democracy in the region. In the midst of a growing lack of confidence in democratic institutions, parties and governments, 2018 has shown that the political paradigms in the region are changing, and these new tendencies are reminders of a very dark past that is yet to be forgotten.

Despite these processes of democratic decline, we have also witnessed great displays of resistance and solidarity. We remember the tremendous earthquake that hit Mexico in 2017 that brought the local population together to rescue victims from under the rubble.

Another example of solidarity can be round in the reaction to the great Venezuelan migrant crisis and the growing phenomenon of migrant caravans that show that despite the change in tendencies of 2018, there is still hope for Latin America. 

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