Viernes 3 de Febrero 2023
In In
Expert Panel Michael Shifter, Inter-American Dialogue; Cynthia Arnson, Wilson Institute and Riordan Roett, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University.
Latin America 2016, the new Latinvex in-depth report on the region's outlook this year.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Special Reports

Latin America 2015: Political Outlook Q&A

Latinvex asks leading experts about the political outlook in Latin America.


How do you view Latin America’s overall political outlook in 2016? In Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment? In Argentina, where a new president assumed office last month? In Peru, which is scheduled to hold presidential elections this year?

Latinvex asked three experts. Our panel:

Cynthia J. Arnson, Director, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue.

Riordan Roett, Professor and Director, Latin American Studies Program, Western Hemisphere Studies, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University.

Latinvex: How do you view the overall political outlook in Latin America?

Arnson: The politics of the region in 2016 will be shaped overall by the sharply reduced levels of growth in most countries, and the outright recession in some.  Countries have different institutional and political capacities for managing the potential conflicts that will arise from curtailed budgets and reduced social spending.  But not all is bleak.  Colombia is closer than ever to signing a final peace accord with the FARC, something that will be a high point for the entire region.  Meanwhile, Venezuela represents the most profound crisis of governance in the hemisphere.  Political polarization is likely to deepen once the opposition-controlled Assembly attempts changes that impact how power is wielded, including by putting in motion a recall referendum against President Maduro.

Roett: The pink tide is in retreat.  The election results in Venezuela and Argentina are an indication that leftist populist governments with commodity export revenues are severely undermined.

Citizens have just so much patience for incompetence and bad government.  The heyday of Chavismo in the region appears headed for the dustbin of history.

Shifter: The region's political outlook in 2016 is uncertain and could well prove quite turbulent.   In the context of Latin America’s slowdown, governments will have far less fiscal space to maneuver to satisfy growing demands and expectations of new middle classes. To sustain a positive trajectory, tough reforms and adjustments will be necessary, but they will be unpopular and politically difficult to manage.  It would not be surprising to see mounting frustration and discontent among citizens who will not accept any slippage to their newly acquired economic position.   During this period of contraction, Latin Americans will have far less tolerance for corruption than during the good economic times. Governing is likely to be more difficult and complicated than during the previous decade.  We shouldn’t expect to see long stretches of political continuity as we’ve seen in the recent past. The trend towards more centrist, pragmatic leadership will probably continue.  Claims about swings to the left or, now, to the right, tend to obfuscate more than they illuminate.  Governments will strive to pursue sound macroeconomic management, while maintaining social policies aimed at reducing poverty.  If they can’t deliver, voters will reject them in the next election.  One important question is whether instruments of regional integration will become stronger or weaker as domestic economic challenges intensify and foreign policies become less ideological.


Latinvex: How do you view the political outlook in Brazil?

Arnson: Brazil is facing its deepest recession in a quarter century, with the economy shrinking by 1.7 percent in the third quarter of 2015.  President Dilma Rousseff appears incapable of unifying her own coalition around spending cuts and measures to increase revenues, and the corruption scandal surrounding Petrobras continues to fester, shaking political and economic elites alike.  Whether or not she manages to avoid impeachment, Rousseff is unlikely to be able to restore confidence in her ability to govern or to manage the economy.  The outlook for 2016 and even for the remainder of her term is grim.   

Roett: 2016 Brazil is disastrous economically, financially, and politically.  2016 may see the impeachment of Dilma.  Even if that process, fails, her ability to govern will remain deeply impaired.  There will probably not be signs of recovery until 2017.  Fears of further downgrades continue to pose new challenges.  The PMDB may or may not leave the coalition but at least Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the House appears destined for destitution.  Federal prosecutors will continue to prosecute the various corruption scandals, more private sector and public sector leaders will be arrested.  Plea bargaining is the name of the new game in Brazilian politics.  We must wait and see if the Olympics bring protestors into the streets.

Shifter: Brazil's twin pressures of an unprecedented political crisis and the economic recession are particularly acute.  The dire situation will continue to put policymakers in a tight bind at least through the course of 2016, if not beyond.  The country will be focused on the fate of President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing an impeachment process in Congress of uncertain outcome.  The coalition that brought her – and her mentor Lula - to power is crumbling, and Rousseff is widely unpopular. The opposition has not been particularly constructive, which has made achieving at least some  measure of consensus elusive.  The dual blow has revealed a structural crisis of governance, which will not be easily resolved whether or not Rousseff remains in office. The political gridlock, in turn, is making it very difficult to implement fiscal adjustments and liberalizing reforms that are fundamental for Brazil to restore its economic health.  It remains to be seen if Rousseff has enough political capital and legislative support to keep her job and reform a struggling economy.


Latinvex: How do you view the political outlook in Argentina?

Arnson: Argentine politics will be tested as the country implements long overdue economic adjustments.  The measures adopted thus far by President Macri, including the lifting of exchange controls and a controlled devaluation, will benefit the country in the medium and long-term, as will an eventual settlement with the “hold-outs.”  But public opinion and Peronist political forces will resist passing on the costs of adjustments to ordinary people.  During the campaign Macri had to reassure voters that his election would not signify a return to the “savage capitalism” of the Menem era.  And opponents have seized on evidence that he has not been true to his word.   Controlling the streets as well as the  hard-core supporters of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will be difficult for the technocrats and private sector leaders that comprise Macri’s inner circle.

Roett: Argentina has turned a corner, partially, with the election of Mauricio Macri.  He has taken office under terrible economic conditions but he has appointed a superb cabinet of honest, talented and dedicated individuals.  The biggest challenge will be to define a strategy to deal with the holdouts on the debt settlement.  Only then can the country return to the international capital markets.  Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, sullen, bitter, and in need of a reality check, will be a challenge for the new government but the power of the purse should win over some of the Peronist governors who need the financial support of the Casa Rosa.  The Peronist delegation in Congress will be more recalcitrant but the governors may be of help there also.

Shifter: The electoral victory of Mauricio Macri – a centrist businessman and former mayor of Buenos Aires — over kirchnerism was one of the greatest political surprises of 2015. The new administration has pledged to reduce government intervention in the economy – Argentina has barely grown in the last four years -- while preserving social policies that are widely popular. Macri has had some successes, particularly lifting currency restrictions. But the new administration will have to pursue unpopular economic policies – including reducing subsidies for public services, lifting trade restrictions, containing inflation and normalizing the currency market – in a very complicated political context. Peronism is still in control of most provincial governments, and holds a majority in the Senate. If Macri is able to deliver positive economic results and build broad legislative support, he should be in a strong position.  If not, he will have to deal with mounting social discontent and significant opposition from Peronist forces and labor unions.


Latinvex: How do you view the political outlook in Peru?

Arnson: Peru’s presidential elections will almost certainly go into a second round, pitting front-runner Keiko Fujimori against the second-place candidate.  Who that second-place candidate will be is the central question.  Given the volatility of Peruvian politics, it’s entirely possible that Fujimori could lose the second round after winning the first. 

Roett: The Humala years are ending.  Keiko Fujimori, once again, is the front runner in the polls.  Alan Garcia [from the APRA party] and PPK [Pedro Pablo Kuczynski] are contenders but Peru may have had enough of Aprismo and Garcia.  PPK would be an excellent president but he does not have the “common touch,” unfortunately.  It is probably Keiko’s to lose.  The ongoing conflict with indigenous groups at the various mining sites will be a difficult challenge for the next government.  Mineral prices will remain stagnant in 2016 posing budget issues for the government.

Shifter: Peru is the only South American country with presidential elections in 2016. The country poses something of a paradox:  economically, despite the deceleration due to falling commodity prices, it remains one of the strongest in the region, while politically voters could hardly be more disenchanted. The next president will have to find ways to sustain economic growth while addressing voters' many concerns, especially mounting crime and widespread corruption.  Although Keiko Fujimori now has a commanding lead in the polls, Peruvian politics is known for its unpredictability and electoral surprises.  Businessman and former governor Cesar Acuna seems to be gaining ground.   If Fujimori wins, a key challenge will be how she deals with the legacy and imprisonment of her father, former president Alberto Fujimori, who remains a deeply divisive figure.


© Copyright Latinvex



  Other articles in : Special Reports
Back to Special Reports