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2010 in Latin America

Article by Foreign Policy Centre

January 5, 2010

In Uruguay, the ex Tupamaro guerrilla, José Mujica, will take office as the new president. He will be responsible maintaining the economical and social achievements inaugurated by the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), through current president Tabaré Vásquez, in 2005. On the other hand, like every change of government, adjustments are expected. There is a silent debate on whether or not to maintain Uruguay’s participation in MERCOSUR. There are important ties amongst Mujica’s allies who defend a Uruguayan posture which is more similar to the Chilean posture: to participate, but to have the power to make commercial partnerships in their interest. With the arrival of Venezuela, there is a feeling that Uruguayan power, which was already minor, will decrease even further. Moreover, the probable politicisation of MERCOSUR does not favour Uruguay.

I believe that 2010 will be one more balanced year in Uruguay. One of the greatest challenges Mujica will face will be to keep the young population inside the country, since the average age of Uruguayans is increasing. The tendency for young Uruguayans is to study in Argentina or in other countries, and this jeopardizes the country’s labor force. Mujica will have to invest so that young people in Uruguay feel they might have similar job opportunities in their own country.

In Chile, after 20 years in power, Concertación (Concertation) – the center-left coalition that has governed the country since 1990 – is at risk of being defeated by the center-right forces, grouped around Sebastian Piñera, of Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile). He will run in the 2nd round against ex-president Eduardo Frei, representative of Concertación, on January 17. Like Uruguay, Chile is on “auto-pilot”. Economical issues are not points of divergence, but rather convergence. With an intelligent campaign, Piñera avoided attacks against Eduardo Frei and preferred to characterize Concertación as the “continuation of the old Chilean policy.” Piñera branded himself as the candidate who will maintain the achievements of Concertación, and make improvements. To reach a larger public, Piñera gave up his conservative posture and now defends homosexual marriage and the distribution of the morning-after pill. This way, even with a popularity rate above 80%, Michelle Bachelet has not been able to pass this popularity on to Eduardo Frei.

In Brazil and Colombia, the political agenda will revolve around the elections. In Brazil, supported by the popularity of president Lula, PT will try to reach the third consecutive mandate with minister Dilma Rousseff. On the opposition, governor of São Paulo, José Serra (PSDB), will try to drive the tucanos (toucans, as PSDB members are known) to power once again. If nothing new happens, the Brazilian election is bound to be polarized between PT and PSDB, a fact that has repeated since 1994. The scoreboard is tied 2×2. Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) won in 1994 and 1998. PT had its payback in 2002 and 2006, by electing and re-electing Lula. The candidates’ decision for vice-president will be a big issue. On Dilma’s side, Michel Temer is losing ground daily while Henrique Meirelles is gaining strength. On Serra’s side, Senator Agripino Maia is a name well suited to the position, that’s why he is among those fighting hard to force Governor José Arruda from his party, the Democrats.

In Colombia, the pre-election setting is undefined. President Álvaro Uribe, even though he hasn’t announced it yet, intends to run for a third consecutive mandate. However, he needs the Supreme Court’s approval for a popular referendum. While this issue is not solved, the election chessboard will be incomplete. If Uribe enters as a candidate, he will be the favorite and should be reelected easily. If the president is prevented from running for the second consecutive reelection, “plan B” is ex-minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos. Still, Uribe would be able to elect Juan Manuel Santos. His impressive popularity and the population’s trust in his government, would lead a large part of the population to vote on a candidate chosen by Uribe. However, the real tendency is for Uribe to be the candidate.

In Argentina and Mexico, the focus will be on economic issues. In Argentina, it is estimated that inflation will close 2009 at a rate of 35%. To make things worse, “Kirchnerism” is losing political power.

In 2007, the year in which the president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, was elected, she had a popularity rate of 55%, and the support of 20 out of 24 governors. She could also count on the majority of the National Congress. In the Chamber of Deputies, 161 of 257 deputies were “Kirchneristas”. In the senate, 47 of 72 senators were part of its base.

Around two years later, the political capital of the Head of State has been seriously affected. In the Chamber of Deputies, “Kirchnerism” has 104 of 257 deputies in its base. In the Senate, 36 of 72 senators support the government. To make things worse, currently, only 10 of 24 governors support Cristina Kirchner.

With so many problems ahead, Casa Rosada can only hope for an economic recovery and that ex-president Néstor Kirchner returns to the command of the Partido Justicialista – PJ (Justicialist Party). Something that is very unlikely to happen.

In Mexico, the expectation for 2010 is that it will be better than 2009. Because of the ties of the country with the American economy, the Mexican Gross Internal Product (GDP) was heavily affected. Apart from crumbling the popularity of Felipe Calderón, the economical juncture catapulted the legendary Partido da Revolução Institucional – PRI (Institutional Revolution Party). With around three more years ahead, Calderón is betting on the recovery of economic activity to help neutralize his two main adversaries: PRI and PRD’s national leader Manuel López Obrador.

In the Bolivarian Block (Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia) we can expect a growth in the Anti-American speech. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavés will test his popularity and the popularity of the Partido Socialista Unido da Venezuela – PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) in the legislative elections. Different from four years ago, the opposition will not boycott the elections, a fact that should make the elections more competitive. However, the Venezuelan opposition suffers from something very similar to the Bolivian opposition: There is no articulation, there are many internal conflicts and disputes wearing down its strongest names. Thus, in case there is no restructuring in what the opposition is really aiming for, Chavés will see their implosion and will have a relatively calm campaign. On the economic field, the government is placing its bets on the increased value of a barrel of oil in the international market. If this does not happen, the difficulties will be tremendous, because more than 45% of 2010’s budget has been set aside for social spending. Apart from this, the reserve that Chávez stored when the price of the barrel was above US$ 100 is coming to an end. He strongly depends on a rise in the oil barrel price.

In Ecuador, president Rafael Correa’s challenge will be to maintain his popularity (around 58% according to the last surveys). As in Venezuela, the country is expected to face future economical troubles.

Inside the Bolivarian Block, attention has been turned to Bolivia. After the results of the last presidential election, the Movimiento al Socialismo (Socialist Movement) – the party of president Evo Morales – conquered hegemony in the political system. MAS (Socialist Movement Party) not only controls the Chamber of Deputies, but also has the absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Thus, the sum of Morales popularity with the power conquered by MAS should strengthen the nationalist-indigenous project of the Bolivian Head of State. The tendency is that the so called “Bolivian Refoundation”, was barred by the Senate in many opportunities for advancing. Another factor that is helping Evo Morales is the lack of opposition articulation. We can expect a more radical government in Bolivia. This time, Morales will not have so many bureaucratic, political and judicial deadlocks preventing him from implementing changes in the new Constitution.

Domestic politics will develop in 2010 as they did in 2009 in all countries. Continental geopolitics may be confronted by different moves. The conclusion of military acquisitions by Brail (fighter planes, tanks, helicopters and submarines) will stimulate other countries to review their own military programs. Argentina, for example, is awaiting definitions regarding Brazil in order to initiate the process of their Armed Forces’ modernization. Rumor has it that the choice of fighter planes Brazil makes will directly affect the choice the Argentinean Air Force makes. Ecuador is another country expected to modernize its Armed Forces. This does not mean we are living in a worrying moment, but even more worrying are South American countries with scrapped armed forces, which is the current situation. MERCOSUR will enter a new phase in 2010. With the entrance of Venezuela, political themes will naturally be part of the block’s agenda. This may jeopardize the survival of MERCOSUR, as there is already a founding member (Uruguay), whose society is discussing whether participation is worthwhile or not.

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