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2020 in Latin America: a Political Roller Coaster

2020 in Latin America: a Political Roller Coaster

Latin America is a broad region encompassing various countries, which share certain similarities, such as political instability. 2020 had a series of changes but at the same time a continuation of old problems. It was a year characterized by social movements, significant political changes, feminist victories, and losses, added to the strong hit that COVID-19 has caused. Undoubtedly it was a year full of ups and downs, and although it would be very long to talk about everything that happened, it is possible and vital to make a brief account of the events. In this article, you can see a rewind of the most important things that happened in Latin America in 2020.

Politics and revolutions

During 2020 Latin America lived through extreme political events with a chasing feeling of the revolution in the air that transformed the region. Some of them were processes that started years ago, and some others were brand new. Latin America is a broad region that encompasses various countries, which share certain similarities, such as political instability. 2020 meant for the region a series of changes but at the same time a continuation of certain problems. It was a year characterized by social movements, where the Latin Americans showed a general discontent against their governments and how much they are willing to do for them to change. Fortunately, these movements were followed up by significant political changes, feminist victories (and losses). Adding to the strong hit that COVID-19 has caused, undoubtedly 2020 was a year full of ups and downs, and although it would be very long to talk about everything that happened, it is possible to make a brief account of the events. 

A woman waves the Chilean flag during one of the protests in Chile. Source: REUTERS.

Since October 2019, a series of manifestations known as the Social Outbreak took place in Chile. Such protests began in Santiago, the capital, but were later spread to more Chilean cities. The cause of this series of manifestations was the increase in the price of Santiago public transport, specifically the metro, which caused a group of students to end up mobilizing the entire country.

A situation even provoked Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency and a curfew starting on October 19. The protests continued until March 2020, even after the government decided to reverse the increase in the price of metro tickets. There also was discontent about the citizens’ life situation and how expensive it was to live in Santiago. In addition to this, there were complaints about its 1980 Constitution, which had been promulgated during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The manifestation had positive results. President Piñera declared the implementation of the New Social Agenda, which would favor the Chilean citizens and would mean economic support, in addition to holding a referendum to decide if a new constitution should be written. The vote should have happened in April, but because of the pandemic, it happened on October 25, with 78% of the votes in favor of the new constitution. The population achieved its mission, however, there is still discontent towards the government, a situation that implies the continuation of protests to continue demanding political and social improvements.

The protests in Peru in support of Martin Vizcarra. Source: REUTERS.

Another political crisis in the area was the Peruvian one, caused by President Martín Vizcarra's dismissal by Congress for alleged corruption. Manuel Merino took presidential power, but due to the protests against him, he had to resign from office a few days later, and Francisco Sagasti took charge. Sagasti is expected to have power until the presidential elections take place in April 2021. In this way, Peru had three presidents in one week, a situation that does not look so far-fetched. We also have to consider that former Peruvian presidents in recent decades have been involved in corruption and human rights violations, some of whom were dismissed or prosecuted after serving their presidential term.

Read: Peruvian Political Crisis: Three Presidents in One Week by Dulce María Hernández Márquez (Mexico).

Meanwhile, other countries went through problems not so different from the usual ones, as was the case of Venezuela, which in 2020 continues to deal with the illegitimacy of its government caused in 2019, when the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself president of Venezuela after Maduro winning the not so transparent, and probably corrupted, presidential election, the international community agreed with Guaidó. Maduro's presidency is not internationally recognized. This situation continued in 2020. After the parliament elections, which neither have international recognition, it is still a matter of debate about the legitimate president and its legitimate government.

The Venezuelan migrants are on the border with Colombia. Source: Geopolitical Futures.

In other problems, the Venezuelan migration crisis was worsened by Covid-19. With the closing of the borders, many people were forced to leave or enter by irregular means. More than 140 thousand Venezuelans returned from Colombia and Brazil by losing their livelihoods due to the pandemic. However, there is still a high flow of people trying to leave Venezuela. Due to the dangerous ways to do it, people are willing to risk their lives to achieve it. For example, in December of 2020, a shipwreck of Venezuelans moving to Trinidad and Tobago was discovered, there at least 29 dead people were found.

COVID-19 out of control

Not only Latin America has a few of the countries with the biggest amount of coronavirus cases in the world, such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, México, and Peru, but it is also the region with the most COVID-19 deaths in the world.

Citizens of Guayaquil are cleaning up the streets of the city damaged by the COVID-19 crisis. Source: Al Jazeera.

The situation that has led the countries to the most extreme contingency points, an example of this was Ecuador, which during March and April of 2020 (while the rest of the region's countries were just experiencing the beginning of contagions) saw its healthcare system collapse. The number of deaths from Covid-19 was so extreme that the streets of Guayaquil had the presence of corpses that the state could not collect. Some of these bodies lasted for days on the road. Some others were placed inside their houses. Time and global help have somehow fixed the situation. Nevertheless, Ecuador is still in a state of a health crisis.

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It is important to mention that other countries did not have to go through conditions as extreme as Ecuador. However, they still had terrible times, most likely due to the mismanagement that their governments had in the pandemic prevention and control measures. It seems that some Latin American presidents do not take the matter seriously enough, or it seems that it is not their interest.

For example, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has made bold statements against the use of face masks as a preventive measure. Among those statements are "wearing a mask is not indispensable [in the fight against COVID]", against recommendations of the World Health Organization, and that he "will wear a mask when there is no more corruption”, making it clear that the use of masks in Mexico has become a politicized issue. At the beginning of the pandemic, in one of his daily morning conferences, López Obrador said, “You have to hug. Nothing happens”. This comment was against the Mexican Secretary of Health's statements about keeping social distance or Susana Distancia (a pun that is a name and also means “Your healthy distance,” used by the Mexican government as the image of a superhero that fights Covid).  His posture has not changed much over the months.

The imagery of Susana Distancia – a superhero from the squad that fights the COVID. Source: RPP.

A little further south of the region, in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, who tested positive for Covid-19 in July, has also shown a negative stance on the use of masks, but for different reasons. Bolsonaro has said that "wearing a mask is for gays", which follows the line of other homophobic comments the president has made. He even vetoed a congressional verdict on the mandatory use of these in public and private spaces indoors. It is no surprise that Brazil is mired in a health crisis.

The COVID-19 contingency also had strongly negative consequences on the region's economy. According to ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), poverty increased by 37%, representing approximately 28 million people. Besides, some countries presented a substantial decrease in their GDP, such as Argentina with 12.9%, being the G20 country with the greatest decrease, and Venezuela, although it is not surprising that it presents a drop, it did so with 30%, worsening even more its already almost non-existent stability.

Other countries such as Mexico and Brazil saw a decrease of between 5% and 10%. This situation is not surprising considering the poor handling that both countries have had facing the pandemic.

Luckily all Latin American countries have plans to acquire and apply the vaccines, which has already started in places like Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. It brings a great light of hope to a region so hit, not only by COVID-19 but also by all its internal problems that were already developing and were only worsened by the pandemic.

Latin America: Green as feminism

In recent years Latin America has been characterized by an increase in feminist activity, and 2020 has been one of the most critical years for the movement. In a place that is considered the second most lethal region for women, where femicides (violent women deaths with a gender reasoning) considerably increased during 2020, mainly in Argentina with 15%, Mexico 9%, and in some states of Brazil 22%, and the fact that a woman is murdered every 2 hours in Latin America, feminism, as well as the implementation of feminist policies are a necessity.

Feminist protests gained strength during 2020. On March 8, manifestations were held throughout the region for International Women's Day and on Monday. On March 9, a female national strike in Mexico - the "A day without us" - was implemented. Women did not go to work or school. They did not buy anything, and they did not even go out or use social media, just to show the impact that women have in all aspects of government and society, leading to what would happen if femicides keep going on and causing a loss of approx 30 000 000 000 Mexican pesos.

Girls in Chile sing the Un violador en tu camino during the protest. Source: LA. Network

The feminist protests in the region have had specific characteristics that have spread, such as songs that have become feminist anthems, like Un violador en tu camino (A rapist on your way) that started in Chile at the end of 2019, including lyrics like “the oppressive state is a rapist macho” and “you are the rapist,” being a modification of the Chilean police hymn. This anthem is performed during manifestations, not only around Latin America but also around the world, and has also been translated to other languages.

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Another of the characteristics shared in the manifestations is the color green, taken from the February 2018 manifestations in Argentina, when it was debated whether abortion should be legal. At that time, it was decided that abortion should not be permitted. However, these protests would create a pattern for subsequent ones since the protesters wore green handkerchiefs to support the cause. Now color green is associated with the feminist struggle.

On January 30, 2020, the Argentine parliament finally decided that abortion should be legal. We must hope that Argentina will continue to be the revolutionary guideline in Latin America. This situation is considered a victory for the feminist agenda in all the region and is the perfect closure of a complicated year.

Among the feminist victories that occurred during 2020, it is also found that Mexico began to implement a feminist foreign policy, following the example of countries such as Sweden and Canada, in addition to being the first country, not only in Latin America but also in the developing countries to apply this type of perspective in their foreign policy.

Latin America still has a long way to go to ensure its women's safety and that gender equality can exist, so any victory that occurs along the way is strongly celebrated, with the hope that one day the situation may change for good.

Conclusion

2020 was a great year for Latin American politics, the region was characterized by social movements and revolutionary changes for the betterment of its governments, but it also witnessed their malfunction.

It is a region in which the pandemic's management has been so politicized that it leads to the worst consequences for the population, seeing collapsed states and intense economic crises, which are not unique to the region but have had a leading character in it.

Despite all the ups and downs, Latin America will continue forward with the hope and optimism that characterizes the region, working for more revolutionary changes for the good of the population.

Written by Dulce María Hernández Márquez, Associate Fellow on Latin America Politics (Mexico)