Latin America 2014: Political Outlook

Experts predict that Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil will be re-elected this year. (Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR)

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


What is the overall political outlook in Latin America in 2014? Will there be more unrest in Venezuela and Argentina during 2014 as a result of the economic problems? Is there any chance of a regime change in Venezuela? Will Dilma Rousseff and Juan Manuel Santos to be re-elected in this year’s presidential elections in Brazil and Colombia? If so, will they continue with the same policies or change policies? If Tabare Vazquez wins the Uruguay elections in October, will he shift Uruguay more towards the left compared with current president Jose Mujica or will he largely follow the same policies as today?

Latinvex asked three leading experts. Our panel:

Ariel C. Armony, Director of the University of Miami's Center for Latin American Studies

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

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

Latinvex: How would you describe Latin America's overall political outlook in 2014?

Roett: Over all stable with Venezuela most uncertain, followed by Argentina.

Arnson: It’s very difficult to talk about an overall regional trend, given the diversity of countries and sub-regions in the hemisphere.  In several countries with national elections, there will be continuity in terms of the party or person in power (for example, Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil), with potential changes in El Salvador.  Ruptures such as what took place in Honduras in 2009 are unlikely anywhere, even in the face of deep political divisions.  Overall, central problems of governance such as citizen insecurity and institutional weakness will remain unchanged.  

Armony: If we talk about the region in general, it is reasonable to expect a stable 2014. Seven countries will hold presidential elections in the region. These elections are not expected to create instability in any of these countries. We may see sporadic episodes of social unrest, but there seems to be a new situation in the region: for the most part, social unrest does not force the collapse of the incumbent administration. Governments are able to cope with these episodes without resorting to major repression or losing their legitimacy in a dramatic way. 


Do you expect to see more unrest in Venezuela and Argentina during 2014 as a result of the economic problems?

Armony: Yes. These countries are experiencing two serious challenges: high inflation and citizen insecurity. In Venezuela, inflation rate went from 20.1 percent in January 2013 to 58.1 percent in December 2013. As we know, the figures for Argentina are very difficult to establish, but inflation has seriously eroded the purchasing power of the population. A good piece of news is that the Economics Minister is now an official with the capacity to enact actual policies. However, it is unclear whether these policies would be effective and help turn the situation around. The problem of insecurity in Argentina and Venezuela, which is related to the economic problems, is serious because it erodes the legitimacy of institutions -- people lose confidence in institutions when they view the state as unable to curb crime and violence. High inflation and rising insecurity are a dangerous combination.

Arnson: Venezuela’s massive economic problems, coupled with the highest homicide rate in South America, did not translate into reversals for the ruling party in last December’s municipal elections, so where economic hardship intersects with political unrest is difficult to pinpoint.  The same is true of Argentina, although the Kirchner regime has far fewer economic and political resources at its disposal to satisfy popular demands. 

Roett: Venezuela is on the edge of crisis; a lame duck [Argentine President] Cristina [Fernandez is] unpredictable with recent cabinet changes doing nothing to reassure the markets or the Argentine population.

Do you see any chance of a regime change in Venezuela during 2014?

Roett: Not impossible.  [President Nicolas] Maduro must be embarrassing to the Chavista coalition with his idiotic rhetoric, lack of understanding of economics and finance, etc.  A palace coup is not impossible.

Armony: No. Let's remember that Venezuela will not have presidential elections until 2019. Even though the situation has worsened since Maduro assumed power, it is likely that his regime will not be destabilized. He will continue the trend of tightening his grip on political power. It is worth mentioning that "chavismo" won local and regional elections by an ample margin in 2013. If you go outside the major cities in Venezuela, you will find that the countryside remains loyal to the government.

Arnson: Judging by the results of the December 2013 municipal elections, the opposition has not recovered from its narrow defeat in the new elections called last April following the death of President Hugo Chávez.  If anything, it has lost ground.  Its ability to defeat President Nicolás Maduro in a recall referendum allowed by the Venezuelan Constitution mid-way through the president’s term is in question.  


Do you expect Dilma Rousseff and Juan Manuel Santos to be re-elected in Brazil and Colombia? If so, will they continue with the same policies or do you expect a change of policies?

Arnson: Rousseff and Santos will almost certainly be re-elected, but the campaigns will be divisive.  In Colombia, Santos’ political commitment to a successful peace process with the FARC will intensify and he will continue the drive to increase foreign investment in Colombia and deepen the Pacific Alliance.  A new Rousseff administration will continue to focus on economic issues, including slow growth and lags in infrastructure and competitiveness.  

Roett: Both will be re-elected. Dilma may try and clean up the economy in 2015....hopefully it will not be too late to do so. I expect Santos to continue on the same policy line.

Armony: Yes. I think that there are no doubts that Santos will be reelected. According to a recent Gallup poll, if the elections were to be held now, 38.5 percent of interviewees would vote for Santos while 13.6 percent would vote for [former economy minister Oscar Ivan] Zuluaga. (Interestingly, a larger percentage of interviewees disapprove of Santos's performance than those who express approval). Santos is likely to continue with the same policies because he has already set up an agenda for a second term. I expect that the agenda will be dominated by the peace process and, if the process is completed successfully, by a concerted effort to implement a series of post-conflict policies. I had the opportunity to chat privately with President Santos when he visited the University of Miami [in December 2013]. Our Center for Latin American Studies was instrumental in arranging his visit -- and I was very impressed with his ideas. Whether you agree or not with his policies, he has a very well-articulated agenda. Dilma is expected to win reelection, unless something serious happens during the World Cup. One of her most important challenges would be to address the roots of social discontent and keep the middle class's dreams of "Brazilian grandeza" alive. One more thing: Dilma has been able to handle public discontent very well. After taking a hit in June, when her approval ratings (positive performance appraisal) decreased to 30 percent (with 43 percent viewing her performance as regular and 25 percent as bad), her approval ratings went up toward the end of the year (41 percent positive appraisal and 17 percent negative appraisal in November 2013) (Datafolha).


If Tabare Vazquez wins the Uruguay elections in October, will he shift Uruguay more towards the left compared with Mujica or will he largely follow the same policies as today?

Armony: I don't think he will move to the left of Mujica. Uruguay has found its own path and it is doing very well. I see no reason for Vasquez to steer away from this trajectory.

Roett: Tabare should be a shoo-in and will certainly continue the same moderate, pragmatic policies that has characterized Uruguay for years.

Arnson: Tabare Vazquez will continue on the path of political as well as socio-economic inclusion that marked his first term.  Overall, he is more skeptical than Mujica of the country’s experiment with marijuana legalization, and one can predict vigorous oversight of the initial results of the new law.  Uruguay may also strike out on a different path of economic integration, seeking to ally more closely with the like-minded open economies of the countries of the Pacific Alliance.  Mercosur has some rough days ahead.

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