A poll of contributors to AULABLOG identified the following five events (listed below in no particular order) as the most important in Latin America in 2012. We welcome you to post your own list using the Leave a Comment link below.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s third major cancer surgery signaled that change – probably profound – will come to Venezuela much faster than his presidential campaign let on. We expect growing tensions among his aides, none of whom has his charisma or base, as they jockey in a succession scenario. We’ll be watching whether the PSUV can become an institutionalized mechanism for channeling Chavismo’s support into a governing project in the post-Chavez era.
The election and inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signals a natural swing back to PRI leadership after 12 years of PAN governments. Differences over the approach to counternarcotics might flare up in an overall smooth relationship with the United States, but the new president’s biggest challenge is going to be overcoming the persistent economic backwardness that has kept Mexico from achieving the economic growth of others since the turn of the century.
The ouster of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo last June – as well as the United States and Latin America’s ambivalent reaction to it – was a dramatic illustration that democracy in the region rests on a tenuous foundation of sometimes contradictory constitutions and weak institutions. The continuing struggle of Honduran President Pepe Lobo, three-plus years after the coup that removed President Mel Zelaya, shows that failure to bring those whose power grabs violate laws and the spirit of law to account sows the seeds of long-term instability and even greater threats to democracy.
The Colombian peace talks, the first serious attempt in 10 years at resolving the decades-old conflict, could lead to a watershed in that country’s development. President Juan Manuel Santos has shown strong leadership, despite incessant carping from his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, and has smartly acknowledged that success in the talks is far from certain. If the talks are successful, 2013 could be a defining moment for a country already experiencing strong economic growth and an important degree of social progress.
Washington continued to sit on the sidelines on most regional issues. President Obama got a spanking at the Summit of Americas from even perennially friendly governments for Washington’s approach to counternarcotics (overly militarized) and Cuba (stuck in the Cold War). He was silent on Latin America during the campaign, and his rhetoric of “partnership” and “neighborhood” remained unfulfilled. Although the President won kudos for implementing elements of the Dream Act by Presidential Directive, the Administration boasted of deporting more than 400,000 illegal immigrants in 2012, the most of any year in the nation’s history. The region is likely to remain eager for U.S. leadership on issues of mutual interest in 2013, but most countries’ blossoming dealings with Europe, Asia and even Africa suggest they’re not going to sit around waiting for the U.S. to take up the challenge.