Big in 2019: our most popular articles in a year of crisis and change for Latin America and the Caribbean

January 2nd 2020, for The LSE Latin America and Caribbean blog  by Asa Cusack

Though 2018 was a highly turbulent year for Latin America and the Caribbean, if anything 2019 saw an intensification of social, economic, and political upheaval in the region.

The emblematic case is surely Chile, where widespread protests have led the country towards the drafting of a new constitution. But in the midst of a faltering peace process, Colombia has also recently seen an uptick in social demands for change, whereas Bolivia continues to plot its return to legitimate government after a highly contentious election. As the salience of climate change increased in the public mind, fires across vast swathes of the Amazon saw Brazil hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, with potential economic issues also looming on the horizon in 2020.

The cost of multidimensional inequalities in Chile underlines the need for a new social pact

Chile’s recent protests represent the culmination of decades of serious social upheaval. The Piñera government’s inept reaction and subsequent conciliatory proposals have misread the nature and severity of the country’s underlying social discontent. The noxious effects of Chile’s deep and diverse multidimensional inequalities are both material and intangible, and only a genuine dialogue between actors prepared to reconfigure their underlying structures can provide the new kind of social pact that will lead to a better social, political, and economic future, writes Kirsten Sehnbruch (LSE International Inequalities Institute).

• Disponible también en español

How did the Brazilian economy help to elect Bolsonaro?

Conventional wisdom sees economic anxiety as central to the rise of the far-right around the world, yet Brazil last year elected Jair Bolsonaro despite impressive results in terms of growth, poverty, and wage disparities in the 2000s. Essentially, the Rousseff years failed to address falling competitiveness in manufacturing, inflation in services, and a distributive conflict affecting those on middle incomes, while an increase in debt-to-GDP allowed the subsequent crisis to be blamed on fiscal profligacy. Cuts in public expenditures then combined with external factors to slow any recovery, and Bolsonaro found electoral success by linking economic stagnation to corruption amongst the entire political establishment. But Bolsonaro’s response has been disastrous, and its disappointing results could prove to be his undoing, writes Laura Carvalho (University of Sao Paulo).

• Disponible también en español

The El Paso shooting must be seen in a broader context of racial violence at the US-Mexico border

The recent shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso has been depicted as a tragedy for local people, reigniting well-practiced debates about gun control, video games, mental health, and “lone wolf” extremism. But this framing not only underplays the impacts on connected communities like Ciudad Juárez across the border, it also fails to acknowledge this massacre’s place in a continuum of race-based and structural violence that has long shaped the experiences of the people of the US-Mexico border, writes Gabriella Sánchez (European University Institute).

Belize’s referendum on its territorial dispute with Guatemala could finally bring an end to Central America’s most enduring conflict

The roots of Guatemala’s claim on Belize go back as far as the 17th century, but the dispute has taken many twists and turns during Belize’s periods under colonial control and as an independent state. Today, the domestic political realities of both countries could allow the International Court of Justice to reach a definitive decision, finally bringing this longstanding dispute to a close, writes Victor Bulmer-Thomas (Chatham House).

We need to understand the Responsibility to Protect before we (mis)apply it in Venezuela

The principle of the Responsibility to Protect, endorsed unanimously by the United Nations in 2005, is an important component of a global, collective security system. But invoking it inaccurately will do little to help the victims that is was designed to protect, writes Adrian Gallagher (European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Leeds).

• Disponible también en español

A violent peace: killing social leaders for territorial control in Colombia

One crucial unintended consequence of the Colombian peace process has been a surge in the targeted killing of local community leaders, with over 500 assassinated since 2011. Leaders tend to be killed by armed groups excluded from the peace process that aim to thwart civilian mobilisation in order to consolidate control over formerly FARC-held areas. Those areas with higher judicial inefficiency and where dispossessed farmers have begun to reclaim their land suffer the most. This shows how incomplete peace agreements can inadvertently increase insecurity by triggering violent territorial contestation, write Mounu Prem, Andrés Rivera, Dario Romero, and Juan Vargas.

• Disponible también en español

How can the UK strengthen its relationships with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean?

The UK already enjoys significant commercial, diplomatic, cultural, and defence links with many Latin American and Caribbean countries. But moves to address outdated perceptions of the region, to facilitate business engagement, and to streamline governance of these relationships could strengthen them even further in the post-Brexit era, write Joanna Crellin (UK Trade Commissioner for Latin America and the Caribbean) and Edward Elliott (British Foreign Policy Group).

The election of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador shows how wartime polarities have dissolved into pragmatism

Widespread corruption and an inability to tackle grave social and economic problems left Salvadorans deeply disappointed with the post-war governments of both the conservative ARENA party and the left-wing FMLN. Through a combination of necessity and invention, Nayib Bukele was able to channel this discontent into a stunning election victory that ends the two-party alternation in place throughout the postwar period. But following his inauguration on 1 June, Bukele should beware that his own vague plans will face the scrutiny of a vigilant and distrustful electorate, writes Ainhoa Montoya (School of Advanced Study, University of London).  

Reforms to Chile’s Inclusion Law on school admissions go against the evidence and international human-rights law

If Chile wants to advance towards a society that gives all children equal opportunities to develop, the government should look to evidence-based educational policies that respect international human-rights law, write María Isidora Palma (LSE Social Policy) and Vicente Silva (Human Rights Centre, Essex University).

Can floods of international money put out the fires in the Brazilian Amazon?

The G-7 has pledged millions to fight this year’s unusually numerous fires in the Brazilian Amazon. But in Brazil the real challenge is stopping fires from being set in the first place, and the Bolsonaro government has made it clear that economic development trumps environmental protection, not least by cutting ever deeper into the budgets of environmental agencies with a proven record of reducing forest fires. International actors can still make a difference, but for the moment it is European consumers that are sending the most effective message, writes Kathryn Hochstetler (LSE International Development).


• Banner image: fireworks over Santiago, Chile (Rodrigo Alvarez, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
• Please read our Comments Policy before commenting