The 10 political risks that threaten Latin America in 2022 | International

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A protest against the Government of Iván Duque, in Cali, Colombia, on June 17.LUIS ROBAYO (AFP)

Latin America, once again, will face a very complex year. Says the second edition of the Political Risk Index of the Center for International Studies of the Catholic University of Chile (CEIUC), which makes an exhaustive analysis of the main problems that threaten this region where, due to the pandemic, “more than 20 million jobs, the levels of labor informality skyrocketed, inequality increased and poverty rose to about a third”. In a report presented this Tuesday in the Chilean capital, the study detects 10 political risks for this 2022, based on the opinion of 1,144 citizens consulted and 170 experts from Latin America and the Caribbean, including presidents, regional authorities, opinion leaders and academics. In order of importance, the report indicates that the risks are democratic erosion, climate change and water scarcity, social protests and violence, the migration crisis, illicit economies, political polarization, falling foreign investment, regional irrelevance, cybercrime and the rise of China.

“Levels of uncertainty, volatility, political risk and polarization will remain high. For its part, populism, anti-elite sentiment and xenophobic nativism will continue to be present and the combination of all this will make governance increasingly complex”, explains Daniel Zovatto, researcher senior of the CEIUC and one of the editors of the report. For Jorge Sahd, director of the CEIUC and another of the report’s editors, “a triple crisis has emerged in Latin America: one of governability, with democracies increasingly under greater tension; of expectations, with a more demanding and impatient citizenry, without an economy that accompanies 2022; and of certainties, with higher levels of political uncertainty, the unknown of the new variants of the pandemic and states with less fiscal margin.”

The first version of Political Risk Index in Latin America 2021 was marked by the devastating effects of the pandemic, but the current report focuses its gaze on the growing level of uncertainty and volatility. It describes, for example, the way in which the pandemic has been an opportunity for certain governments to concentrate greater power and improperly apply states of exception, with the emergence of new authoritarianisms “in impatient, distrustful societies that have been hit hard by the health emergency.” . With a regional economy on the mend, after the debacle of 2020, the recovery is insufficient and with a modest projection of 3% growth for 2022, especially since the region is still dealing with a global health emergency. It is the background of the triple crisis that Sahd mentions and that is explained in the report.

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In the crisis of governability, democracy is under tension. Half of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean show signs of democratic erosion, according to the International IDEA State of Democracy in the Americas 2021 report. Meanwhile, the Latinobarometro pollster warns that half of Latin Americans would tolerate a non-democratic government as long as it solves their problems. According to the Democracy Index of The Economist Intelligence Unit 2020 in Latin America, in addition to three consolidated dictatorships —Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua—, Honduras, El Salvador, Bolivia and Guatemala are classified as hybrid regimes”, indicates the CEIUC report.

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit 2020, only three countries in the region have full democracies: Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica. Meanwhile, the levels of trust in public institutions remain low, discontent with the quality of public services increases and social networks speed up social demands that the State is not capable of processing, says the Political Risk Index from Latin America. “Urgent institutional reforms are needed for the new times that incorporate criteria of inclusion, efficiency, transparency and governance,” advises the study. In addition, the need for “elites and citizens more committed to democratic values” is pointed out.

The research also points out that climate change, water stress and natural disasters cause a growing impact on nature and populations, which is exacerbated by the lack of governance and foresight by States. It is the second risk that the study warns in order of importance, after the democratic erosion. The scenario is discouraging: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the rise in sea level will continue in the region at an average of 3.6 millimeters per year – above the global average of 3.3 mm -, which it would impact 27% of the population living in coastal areas. The widespread drought would result in a worsening of access to food in many areas of the region, which has a direct impact on the ability to reduce poverty and extreme poverty, mainly in rural areas. In an area of ​​the planet that concentrates 31% of the world’s freshwater reserves, countries such as Chile and Mexico had consumed over 60% of their water reserves in 2019, says the CEIUC report.

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There is a third great risk for the region in this 2022, social protests and violence. It is a complex context. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates a historical drop of 7% of GDP according to figures from October 2021 and ECLAC counts 22 million new poor in the region, equivalent to 33.7% of the population of Latin America, a increase in inequality by 2.9%, and a loss of 47 million jobs compared to 2019. Although social aid increased public debt by 10 points of GDP in less than two years, “the patience of frustrated young people and disenchanted with the inability of governments to reverse structural inequality, it ends quickly and they demand immediate results”, says the Latin American Political Risk Index. “Despite the risks of massive contagion [por la covid-19], the protests against the governments have been reactivated, many of them producing violent confrontations with the security forces and with a tragic balance for the participants”, adds the study.

Zovatto explains: “The turbulent second half of 2019 characterized by a wave of protests was the first warning bell of the high level of social unrest and citizen irritation that afflicted many fatigued democracies in the region. In 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, most of the protests were sent to quarantine. This generated the false feeling that social protests were a thing of the past. But in 2021, in several countries, including Paraguay, Peru and especially in Colombia, these resurfaced with particular virulence”, says one of the editors of the report.

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For the researcher senior of the CEIUC, there is a high risk that the protests will reignite in Latin America in 2022. “In my opinion, if governments fail to adequately manage citizen expectations and demands and provide timely and effective responses to the root causes that triggered the protests in 2019 (social unrest, lack of opportunities especially for young people, poor quality of public services, lack of trust of citizens with politicians and a long etcetera) there is a high risk that they will re-emerge”. He adds, however, that “not everything is negative in relation to the protests.” Zovatto says that when they are not accompanied by violence, they constitute a valuable mechanism to defend citizen rights and promote reforms and social and political changes.

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