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PostAmidst Crisis, Populism Rises in Latin America (Consoly Leon Arias, Spain / Canary, 08/24/22 4:16 am)
Covid-19 hit most of the Ibero-American republics, which, with some exceptions such as Costa Rica, barely had public health systems capable of "coping" with the emergency.
The images of the queues in Peru and Mexico to buy oxygen tanks in the informal (black) markets highlighted the reality of fragile economies, which left the weakest strata of the population without income, due to quarantines.
Moreover, as has happened in other parts of the world, the crisis continued beyond the pandemic. It has been aggravated by inflation, especially due to the increase in fuel prices and the fall in the value of national currencies against the US dollar.
The seriousness of the situation varies from one Latin American country to another, but its political and social consequences have had a similar tone, with the emergence of populist movements, mostly on the left, resorting to the old formulas of socialism, always unsuccessful, seasoned with indigenism, as in the 1960s.
Governments, such as that of Ecuador's Guillermo Lasso, which have tried to face the crisis with economic orthodoxy and free markets, have either had to give in to sometimes violent street protests, or have been swept aside at the polls, as has happened with Colombia's Iván Duque.
Others, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, have seen an intensification of political and social repression, which in the Nicaraguan case, has included a persecution of the Catholic Church, desecrating both its temples and religious freedom.
Mexico, the great continental power, has its own characteristics due to its commercial relationship with the United States. This connection has tied the hands of the populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, primarily due to the enormous remittances coming from abroad. However, the economic situation is deteriorating (the current inflation of 8% is the highest in 22 years and GDP has stagnated), amidst public and legal insecurity that discourages foreign investment and restricts domestic entrepreneurship.
Finally, I note that Latin America is repeating its recent history, based on the same premises: political and fiscal populism, economic protectionism, artificial price controls, the multiplication of bureaucracy and the search for an external enemy to blame for its own irresponsibility. In short, these countries lack a democratic system that safeguards their rights and freedoms.
JE comments: Covid has actually yielded several success stories in Latin America. Chile has achieved almost universal vaccination, with rates far higher than both Spain and the US. In fact, according to the New York Times, even Cuba and Nicaragua have higher rates than many of the "developed" countries. To be sure, we might question the accuracy of these nations' claims--and vaccination is only one aspect of the total response to the pandemic.
Populism and Neoliberalism might be viewed as two sides of the same coin: when one fails, the other takes hold. Rinse, and repeat. This is the story of Latin America. And we well know that the so-called First World is not immune from populism.