Image: Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico. From Abraham Lagunas, via Pexels.
The Winter/Spring issue of Inroads included an article about the challenges facing the newly elected President Lula in Brazil. But it was the exception that proved the rule: leaving out the special cases of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Inroads has never given our neighbours in Latin America the attention they deserve. Here we begin to make up for this, with three in-depth analyses. Mario Polèse’s focus is on Mexico in Mexican Journey, while Geoff White’s is on the Pacific Alliance, in Is There Still Some Life in Free Trade? The fastest-breaking story among them – leaving aside my latest update on the Haitian tragedy – is Crisis in Peru, the report by Maxwell Cameron on recent developments there.
Coincidentally, Frances Boylston and I were in Cuzco in the Peruvian Andes in early December, visiting the sights of this ancient city of the Incas. We were lucky to get out before martial law set in to quell protests – some of which became violent in that region – in response to the jailing of President Castillo after his failed power grab. In his description and analysis of the events, Cameron finds that the protesters, many of them members of the indigenous population concentrated in the Andes region, are justified in feeling abandoned by the state. But underlying the policy failures, there is an important institutional dimension to the challenge facing Peru: the recurring refusal of political losers to accept the outcome of a free and fair election – an unwillingness not absent from politics elsewhere in South America, as the other contributions illustrate.
While Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are the only Latin American countries that effectively remain dictatorships, democracy in Peru, like that in Guatemala and El Salvador, has proven shaky. Elsewhere in Latin America competitive elections based on universal suffrage allowing for the peaceful alternation of power are a matter of course, something that was not the case not too long ago. On the other hand, vote buying is common, while money from organized crime still plays a role in elections and policy-making.
Surveying the situation, Geoff White, a former Canadian senior trade commissioner in Chile, asks if we are unrealistic in promoting a Pacific Alliance, in Is There Still Some Life in Free Trade? He responds that however unpromising the current situation, Canada should persist in its efforts. He argues that governments sceptical of the benefits of openness may discover that their interest still lies in that direction, pointing in particular to Ecuador. More generally, left-leaning administrations that have emerged, for all their rhetoric, have not closed the door to freer trade.
In his contribution Mexican Journey, Mario Polèse focuses on Mexico, where he spent a sabbatical year and was a visiting professor from 1990 to 2010. From his experience, he concludes that Latin America will continue to fail to live up to its potential and the social well-being gap with Canada will not close in the foreseeable future. This is because Latin America remains, with rare expectations, a prisoner of its past.
The case in point is Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO for short), a classic authoritarian populist, nominally left-wing, not very different from others who have sprung up throughout Latin America’s history. AMLO is in the process of further weakening Mexico’s young democratic institutions, notably in a law reducing the budget and mandate of the National Electoral Institute (INE).
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the situation in Haiti, which has degenerated into a no man’s land dominated by highly organized gangs. It is a terrible situation and if anything getting worse. Nothing significant has happened to change conditions in Haiti, which only outside intervention could do. The latest indicator of how low things have sunk is talk of the Wagner Group of current Ukraine infamy being hired to protect the state against the gangs. With media attention focused on Ukraine, Haiti has been left to fester. Canada, the country most suited to lead an intervention in Haiti, has been let off the hook. But for how long?