Chile: Dim Prospects for New Constitutional Assembly Soon

By Carlos Cruz Infante and Miguel Zlosilo*

The Constitutional Convention, shown here during a moment of silence at its inauguration, started amid optimism that a new Constitution would help heal the country’s deep splits / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License

Chile does not appear likely to restart efforts to write a new Constitution soon. The failure of the first draft – rejected by 62 percent of Chilean voters – has significantly weakened political leaders’ ability and resolve to try a second draft. Pollsters predicted that Rechazo (rejection) would win on September 4, and the result would fit within the left-right pendular swings of Chilean votes, but the devastating 16‑point advantage surprised all major observers.

Popular support for Constitutional reform has dissipated, even though many of the underlying issues that sparked the upheavals in 2019 and drove 78 percent of Chileans to vote for the Constituyente process remain formidable. Popular frustration with the political class and unhappiness with the first draft has bred apathy and probably disgust. 

  • The warning signs were clear before the referendum on September 4 rejected the draft. Its architects squandered their opportunity to craft a magna carta that transcended political agendas and instead they loaded the draft up with agenda items that would have best been resolved through normal political processes. Constituyente leaders’ efforts to expand people’s rights without a broader national debate turned out to be counterproductive – alienating even some crucial center-left players – and the lack of fiscal responsibility for some proposals gave right-leaning forces an issue with which to rally opposition. On top of that, investors feared that several regulatory changes would impact economic growth and unemployment.

Since the rejection, the nation’s political leaders have remained too wrapped up in their political agendas to develop a vision that could unify them and win popular support.

  • The center-left argues that a second (and successful attempt) is necessary to institutionalize Chile’s legacy since the end of the dictatorship in the 1990. Its narrative, however, is plagued with unrealistic expectations for them to provide leadership because they missed important opportunities to do so in the early 2000s.
  • President Gabriel Boric’s Frente Amplio and the left-leaning factions aligned with his government have so far failed to develop a political project. They admitted that a new Constitution is essential to their planned policies but did not inspire support. Boric has reached out to the center-left and, after the referendum failure, made a leader of the Partido por la Democracia (PPD), Carolina Tohá Morales, Minister of the Interior. But polls, including Plaza Pública by Cadem and Activa Research, indicate that Boric’s approval rating is steadily diminishing, and his disapproval is rising. Critics say that he has been overly focused on Chile’s international image, not the political crisis caused by the Constituyente’s failure, but his recent moves on pension reform may help on that.
  • The center-right, which led the Rechazo efforts against the draft, has not yet shown a compelling need for a new Constitution and simply does not see the citizens’ urgency to push for one. Indeed, center-right leaders are enjoying the failures of the left and center-left during and since the Constituyente. The hard right has never wanted to abandon the Pinochet-era Constitution that was to be replaced.

A centrist coalition comprising some elements of the center-left and center-right has expressed conditional interest in getting a second try off the ground, but fear of “convention disaster 2.0” has stymied any progress. The centrists have separately indicated that they would support another convention if the two hard factions (left and right) accepted conditions that, they say, would pave the way forward. Regarding the substance of a new assembly, they want it built on social issues that already enjoy support – not a long wish list of one political sector or other. They also want constitutional and policy experts to be incorporated into the process as referees and observers empowered to rein in ideologues and partisans on both sides.  Neither the left nor right has so far accepted the conditions.

No clear way to get the constitutional redraft back on track has emerged yet, but the problems that led to popular demands for one have not gone away and could put a fire under the political class. The Amarillos por Chile, a broad-based group of moderates with experience and expertise (at first non-partisan but now its own party), have offered ideas for breaking the impasse – even though, like the political centrists, they so far have not figured out how to hold a successful second convention will help. Moreover, they do not have any elected congress member for political influence. They are former politicians and current business leaders who first emerged during the Constituyente, calling for moderation and rejection of sweeping changes that they called “refoundational.” Their backgrounds and relative lack of political agendas may give them the steady hand Chile needs to launch a second try. Until popular demands for change force the political parties to get serious, however, the Amarillos and other supporters of a new, better modulated Constituyente are in a waiting game.

*Carlos Cruz Infante is a sociologist and has served in several senior strategic planning positions in the Chilean government. Miguel Zlosilo is a sociologist and former chief of research of the Secretary of Communications in the second Sebastián Piñera government (2018-21).

U.S. Immigration Debate Skewed by Bad Statistics

By Ernesto Castañeda*

Sign demarcating US and Mexico territory on the southern US border in El Paso, Texas / Ernesto Castañeda / Creative Commons License

Immigration figures have long driven heated political debate in U.S. politics – even worse in recent years – but the data often exaggerate the problem because the responsible government agencies are double-counting and media reports are analyzing the numbers incorrectly. Opponents of President Joe Biden claim that over 2 million undocumented immigrants have entered the United States each year since he became President. The numbers reported by relevant agencies should not drive headlines or be interpreted as stock tickers about whether immigration is up and down, but the data become political footballs serving generally anti-immigration political interests.

Border encounters involving people without immigration papers are just a small subset of all immigrants, emigrants, visitors, and border crossing commercial and tourist activity – almost 300 million over the past 12 months. Analysis of the numbers about border crossers reported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires clarification of what it considers “encounters.”

  • Because many people enter multiple times, the figures also reflect double-counting of many of the same individuals – sometimes more than five times each. Those of certain nationalities can be quickly removed and returned to Mexico for various reasons without adequate recording of their names and other details, making it impossible to know how many people are counted multiple times. Even those repatriated after a judge determines they do not qualify for asylum, humanitarian parole, or other special visa often try again and count as another “encounter.”
  • “Encounters” do not equal unique individuals but rather interactions between asylum-seekers or migrants and DHS personnel anywhere along the border. The U.S. Government reports, for example, that 1 million-1.3 million migrants were removed from the United States under Title 42 provisions intended to protect U.S. health in the context of the COVID pandemic – almost half of the total reported “encounters.” So “encounters” do not equal individuals entering the U.S. either.
  • The numbers include individuals whom the United States normally welcomes, including 140,000 unaccompanied minors looking to reunite with family members in the country, and over 20,000 Ukrainians. Russians and Afghans are in a similar situation. Cubans no longer are fast-tracked for permanent residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, but the U.S. government cannot deport them because neither Mexico nor Cuba will take them back. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, Haitians, and others are fleeing situations that most U.S. observers consider intolerable.
  • Comparing year-on-year figures is also deceptive. During 2020, the acceptance of asylum-seekers came almost to a halt. The pandemic, Title 42, and the “Remain in Mexico” program (under which individuals who pass a “credible fear” screening are forced to stay in Mexico while awaiting a hearing) created a backlog and bottleneck for the normal mobility that had occurred in previous years. Shifts in DHS accounting between years have also exaggerated the impression of a surge.

Other observers have confirmed migration specialists’ concerns about the over-counting. Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which monitors the staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government, reported in September that detention data released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “is, once again, riddled with errors.” TRAC found “egregious” mistakes in several data categories that led the agency to seriously misrepresent conditions in its public statements.

While the U.S. government’s bad information makes precise calculations of migrant flows impossible, what is sure is that the total number of distinct individuals entering the United States without documentation is much less than 2 million a year. More credible estimates are that –after accounting for thousands of deportations – probably less than half a million people have been allowed in.

  • Among them, some were granted asylum – a right under U.S. and international law. Many others are welcome refugees and asylum-seekers like those from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Many others are waiting their turn in immigration court. Therefore, most of those included in this estimated half-million are in the United States legally, and the government knows who they are and where they live. By definition, they are not “illegal” or hiding. Allegations by a Texas senator and others that “4.2 million illegal immigrants have streamed across the border” since Biden took office are simply not true.

* Ernesto Castañeda teaches in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Paraguay: Is Being Against Corruption and Organized Crime Enough?

by Esteban Caballero*

The Gran Palacio Nacional in the capital of Paraguay, Asunción / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License

As Paraguay prepares for general elections next year, the opposition is running on a platform condemning the corruption of the incumbent Colorado Party, but candidates so far have not articulated credible policies to weed out what is a deeply systemic problem.

  • President Mario Abdo Benítez, whose five-year mandate (with no possibility of reelection per the Constitution of 1992) ends next August, has faced several challenges. His Colorado Party has had to manage the COVID pandemic and a series of climatic and economic headwinds that impeded the performance of the agro-exporting sector, the backbone of Paraguay’s economy. Although the country’s fiscal health is better than others in the region, public debt has risen, and pension subsidies have taken resources away from meaningful public investment projects.
  • In July and August, the United States designated former President Horacio Cartes and Vice President Hugo Velázquez – also from the Colorado Party – as “significantly corrupt.” The news sent shockwaves through the body politic and fueled nationwide angst about corruption and, more seriously, the ability of organized crime to permeate government institutions.

Combatting corruption and organized crime has become the central theme of the opposition’s efforts to contest the governing party’s hold on power in the April 2023 elections for president and vice president, deputies, senators, and departmental governors and councilors. Preparing for primaries on December 18, a group of opposition leaders has created a coalition called Concertación Nacional 2023. Early polls indicate that Efraín Alegre from the Liberal Radical Authentic Party will win the primary. He shares the ticket with Soledad Núñez, an independent candidate for vice president.

  • The opposition says that giving the boot to the Colorado Party and rebuilding government institutions will solve the problem. Still, analysis of the more prominent opposition leaders’ discourse signals the need to generate more substantive, programmatic proposals to counter corruption and narco threats. Whether this weakness is because they have no policy think tanks or an indicator of disregard for the policy debate in Paraguayan politics remains to be seen. In any case, the opposition appears poorly prepared to deal with the problems.
  • The challenge is that the country faces two intertwined phenomena – the more traditional corruption linked to government procurement and personnel recruitment and the growing threat of sliding toward being a “narco-state.” Washington’s allegation against former President Cartes is that he “obstructed a major international investigation into transnational crime to protect himself and his criminal associate.” Narcos have killed several well-known local politicians. When model and influencer Cristina Aranda died in an accident in a shoot-out, it shocked public opinion. Nonetheless, the opposition is having difficulty harnessing that revulsion and delineating policies to stop Paraguay’s various forms of corruption.

The opposition’s promise to strengthen government institutions, preserve the rule of law, increase the proper functioning of the police, and reform the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary are laudable goals that will win support among its base and some fence-sitters. Undoubtedly, the Colorado Party is the party most at fault when it comes to condoning corruption and opening the gates to organized crime’s influence. Nevertheless, the opposition cannot only run on a negative campaign, and should ask itself how credible its discourse can be without specifics, especially if it comes from professional politicians who belong to parties, such as the Liberal Radical Authentic Party, that have also had corrupt elements among them when in office.

  • Polls and media reports show that a significant contingent of the electorate continues to support the Colorado Party even if they agree on the need to stop corruption and organized crime. The opposition’s messaging in that context has to draw a fine line between holding the Colorado Party accountable and avoiding broad sweeps that may alienate many of those potential voters and that risks pushing them to consider change as a menace more than a form of deliverance.

* Esteban Caballero is a columnist and political analyst. He is the academic coordinator of the FLACSO Program in Paraguay and former regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UN Fund for Population.

Haiti: The Danger of Foreign Military Intervention

By Scott Freeman*

A police precinct in Cite Soleil, where gang violence and protests have surged in recent months / James Emery / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Though Haiti’s security, economic, and political crises have thrust the country into the most dire situation in recent memory, the Prime Minister’s call for foreign military intervention, if the UN complies, will continue a cycle of failed international meddling. The UN is discussing proposals backed by the United States and Mexico that would impose financial sanctions and an arms embargo on criminal actors in Haiti and authorize “a non-UN international security assistance mission to help improve the security situation and enable the flow of desperately needed humanitarian aid.” The mission would be led by an unspecified “partner country” with experience in Haiti.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, serving as head of government with international support since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, pleaded for assistance amid a precipitous rise in gang power in Haiti and unwavering calls for his resignation.

  • Gangs control much of the country, in particular Port-au-Prince, and affect everything from the safety of children attending school to the movement of food. Several weeks ago, they seized the terminal where fuel enters the country, paralyzing transportation, the functioning of hospitals, and other essential services. Working towards both political and criminal ends, gangs came to power as political tools, used notably by the ruling PHTK party to squash opposition. Now they operate throughout the country. Human rights groups estimate that 90 gangs operate in the capital and have killed hundreds of citizens and terrified tens of thousands of others. UN specialized agencies reported last week that 4.7 million Haitians (about 40 percent of the national population) face acute hunger, including 19,000 who are in “Phase Five” famine conditions for the first time.

However, Henry’s call for an international security presence is deeply problematic.

  • Named Prime Minister two days before Moïse’s assassination, Henry lacks a popular and constitutional mandate. Moïse blocked elections for mayors and national legislators and gutted the judiciary, consolidating power in his own hands. Henry is now the de facto leader of a country void of democratic checks and balances. During his year in power, Henry has done almost nothing to address the issue of gang violence. Protests have been occurring in the street regularly calling for his departure. The peyi lok (country lockdown) protests that started in late September ramped up in response to Henry’s removal of fuel subsidies – levying essentially a regressive tax perceived by Haitians across the country as a direct assault on the poor.
  • Despite consistent and popular calls for his removal, the United States, Canada, and other countries’ support for Henry and the PHTK has endured, choosing “stability” over calls for a transitional government and democratic elections. Washington has largely ignored the Montana Accord, the product of a broad coalition of some 70 civil society actors across religious and political divides who proposed two years of coalition government followed by free and fair elections. In Washington, support for Henry has been challenged by 13 members of the Democratic Party in the Senate and House who wrote a letter to President Biden that points out Henry’s disinterest in democracy and stability, and urged the Administration to change its strategy, heed the Montana Accord, and move away from support for Henry.

Protesters have forcefully rejected Henry’s call – bolstered by UN Secretary-General Guterres – for a foreign security force “to stand with us and help us fight this humanitarian crisis.” The request has met stiff resistance in Haiti by groups that portray it as a blatant effort to keep himself and the PHTK in power. Others call the invitation to foreign troops treason and argue a foreign force would repeat the mistakes of the previous UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH, 2004‑17), which introduced cholera into the country, committed widespread acts of sexual assault and violence, and was widely seen as an occupier. A statue in southwest Haiti, for example, was erected to depict Haiti’s triumph over both cholera and the UN force.

  • The strong rejection of this option from civil society groups like the Montana Accord and advocacy groups like Nou Pap Domi (We Won’t Sleep) bodes poorly for international actors that might think that yet another military deployment in Haiti would lead to a different result than the past catastrophic operations. As long as the “core group” of the international community keeps its thumb on the scale and gives free reign to leaders like Henry and predecessors who lack democratic legitimacy, democratic change will not occur. Truly breaking the cycle of interventions and the longstanding support of kleptocratic regimes would mean supporting the work of groups like the Montana Accord – which the United States and others have rejected. Henry’s request for a foreign military presence is therefore not a solution, but instead sows the seeds of another set of problems.

* Scott Freeman is an anthropologist and professor in the School of International Service.

Colombia: LGBTQ+ Youth Faces Discrimination, Bullying, and Institutional Harassment 

by Juliana Martínez* 

Group of demonstrators in Colombia for LGBTQ+ rights / Erick Morales / Sentiido / Creative Commons License

Despite significant progress in laws advancing their rights, Colombia’s LGBTQ+ youths face systemic hostility and receive little support from the institutions that are supposed to help them, leading to higher mental health issues and reduced academic achievement. Surveys by the Colombian Sentiido Foundation – receiving 1,555 and 3,246 responses from LGBTQ+ youth in August-September 2021 – provide a comprehensive picture of their lives, experiences, needs, and support networks. 

Despite the most progressive legal protections in Latin America, the public record and various comprehensive studies show that LGBTQ+ people in Colombia continue to experience widespread discrimination and violence – including bullying, verbal harassment, mean rumors, and physical assault – that make them feel unsafe. Ninety-eight LGBTQ+ people were murdered in Colombia in 202021. 

  • Colombia’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court, has established strong precedents that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination. Gay couples can get married and enjoy the rights of straight couples. While the country does not have a comprehensive gender identity law, trans people can change their name and sex marker on all official documents freely. The Court has shown a strong anti-discrimination stance with a series of rulings protecting students as well. 
  • Despite this, LGBTQ+ youth suffers on many levels. Sentiido’s surveys confirmed that young LGBTQ+ Colombians experience harassment, bias, and discrimination in school and other aspects of their lives. Ironically, the Sentiido study found that, rather than being the solution, adults are often part of the problem – failing LGBTQ+ youths in school, home, and even churches. Teachers, parents, and other adults in positions of responsibility often press youths into therapies and treatments to make them conform to traditional models rather than prosper as they are. Eighty-seven percent of LGBTQ+ youths have heard homophobic or transphobic comments from family members, and almost one in five reports having been physically punished by parents for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Regarding school climate, more than half report they feel unsafe in school and were cyber-bullied at home, causing more than a third of them to miss at least one day of class a month. More than 90 percent hear homophobic remarks at school, and 75 percent report being verbally harassed based on sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, and race or ethnicity. Thirty percent have been physically harassed (e.g., shoved or pushed). Some 87 percent feel deliberately excluded by other students. 

  • Most students (65.5 percent) reported hearing homophobic remarks from school staff. Teachers’ and administrators’ unwillingness to create a safe environment, such as by discouraging peer meanness, create an impression of condoning the abuse. Almost 15 percent of youths taking the survey reported facing disciplinary processes for being LGBTQ+ despite laws explicitly prohibiting it. 
  • When students reported incidents, moreover, staff usually did not help. Less than a fifth reported that school personnel intervened most of the time or always. (Peers were much more reliable in assisting.) As a result, almost seven in 10 students never reported incidents to staff. 

Youths facing such challenges without reliable support networks, affirming resources, and safe spaces endure stresses that negatively impact their mental health and academic achievement – consequences that are visible in rates of attempted suicide and school absences. These data, however, can help responsible people make institutions more responsive. Almost 70 percent of LGBTQ+ youth think things will be better in the future, apparently because they see the obvious solutions that adults can adopt. 

  • The same questionnaires that paint vivid pictures of the problem also show the way ahead to improvements, starting with adherence to the law. The surveys show that youths who receive positive info about LGBTQ+ people, history, and events – although a minority – have the best outcomes in terms of mental health, a feeling of belonging, and school attendance. Schools with explicitly inclusive policies have more successful staff intervention when problems arise.  
  • Online materials and activities can help as sources of information, but they’re not a substitute for person-to-person interaction. The unsupervised way in which youths navigate online spaces can put them at risk or confuse them. The Sentiido surveys show that inclusion, acceptance, and personal contact are the elements, denied to most LGBTQ+ youths today, that will most help all Colombian youth, including LGBTQ+ youth, thrive. 

*Juliana Martínez  is the Research Director of Sentiido and an Associate Professor at the Department of World Languages and Literatures at American University. Her recent book, Haunting Without Ghosts, Spectral Realism in Colombian Film, Literature and Art, is the winner of the William M. LeoGrande Award for the best scholarly book or article on Latin American or Latino Studies published by a member of the American University community in 2020–2021. 

Colombia: Will New Drug Policies Damage U.S. Ties?

By Pedro Arenas*

Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez meeting with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken / U.S. Department of State / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s push for a major overhaul of the “war on drugs” is likely to cause tensions with Washington, but both sides appear to be proceeding with caution. Like its predecessors, the Biden Administration is reluctant to acknowledge the failure of the old tactics, but the burden will be on Petro to make the case that new approaches will work better.

  • Colombia has agreed with the United States on drug policies since the 1970s, with a focus on the Colombian Police and, later, the National Army. In 1996, the U.S. State Department said that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) were directly engaged in narco-trafficking, which opened the door for deeper cooperation. With “Plan Colombia” in the 2000s, Bogotá made the war on drugs a central element of its counterinsurgency – and Washington became deeply involved despite the implications for human rights in affected regions.
  • The two countries put aerial eradication of coca crops and extradition of traffickers at the center of the relationship, even though the initiatives did not significantly reduce the production or flows of the narcotic into the United States. The cartels fragmented and grew more violent as they fought for control of the trade.

President Petro’s proposed reform is not the first challenge to the decades-old approach. A peace agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC in 2016 challenged the nature and depth of cooperation. The accord included commitments in four areas: incentivizing coca growers to change crops (through agrarian reform and secure access to markets); stopping the traffic (through interdiction); eliminating money-laundering; and getting transit and consumer countries to do more to reduce demand. The goal was to reduce the trade and demand more than to criminalize the production of raw material.

  • Little progress was made before President Iván Duque (2018-2022) put the emphasis back onto classic supply reduction. (The Constitutional Court would not allow the resumption of aerial spraying for environmental and health reasons, but ground-based operations increased.) The United States continued to demand increased eradication of coca, while continuing to reinforce police and military bases and cooperating in narco arrests.
  • Petro argues that peace in Colombia should start with the reform of these policies. (Colombia has suffered a conflict with 9 million victims.) He has proposed a permanent end to aerial spraying and an emphasis on crop substitution in coca-producing communities; expanded interdiction in the air, at sea, and on rivers; and greater efforts to bring all illegal armed groups, including narco-traffickers, into the national judicial system with assurances that they will not be extradited if they cooperate, compensate victims, and do not repeat their crimes.

Six Colombian think tanks (including the one I cofounded) have given the President recommendations on how to implement his priorities. The recommendations stress the need for internal Colombian reforms, most of which can be made without the permission of the United States. Important ones include ending the excessive use of criminal law in non-violent drug cases; suspending the use of force against communities in coca-producing areas; implementing the Peace Accord (including promised investments to fund alternative crops); permitting a regulated cannabis market; and opening markets of food products, with appropriate protection for users, derived from coca leaf.

Despite his progressive international discourse on the need to end the war on drugs, Petro’s opponents say that his proposals would make Colombia a narco-state, and peasant organizations are concerned that land eradication by the military and police forces will continue. The State Department’s top drug official initially said publicly that he saw “a problem” in Petro’s proposals, but Secretary of State Blinken at a press conference with Petro on Monday said he “strongly supports the holistic approach that President Petro’s administration is taking,” and that the two administrations are “largely in sync” on drugs policy. They did not publicly address the thorny issue of extradition.

  • Washington will probably have difficulty making deep changes to policy, particularly as U.S. mid-term elections approach. In addition to competing perspectives on how to deal with crime, there are political sectors, bureaucracies, and powerful business interests that have benefited greatly from the past policy emphasis on criminalizing peasant production of coca leaf – even if the results have been questionable. Their justification is that the drug problem “would be worse if we didn’t do it.”
  • Petro surely knows he will have to be creative and patient with Washington. For instance, recently the Colombian Police chief received two U.S. helicopters, the first of 12, for protecting the forests in Colombia, suggesting the new President will seek common ground with the United States. He wants to avoid provoking Washington to use its anachronistic “decertification” process to punish him for showing insufficient commitment.

The six think tanks believe that Petro can thread the needle in the U.S. relationship and that, if implemented correctly, the reforms of drug policies will bring Colombia in line with international norms, including the protection of human rights, and win broad international support. A frank conversation among Latin America, Africa, Oceania, and Europe within the OAS or UN would benefit all.

* Pedro Arenas is cofounder of Corporación Viso Mutop, a Bogotá-based organization that facilities dialogue on sensitive issues among diverse social, political, and institutional actors.

Ecuador: Weak Government Faces Growing Challenges

By Pablo Andrade Andrade*

Ecuadorians rallying during the paro nacional / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has tried to overcome the economic mess and political divisions he inherited from predecessors with neoliberal policies that, along with other missteps, have fueled growing opposition to him and undermined his agenda during the final two years of his term. Even if, unlike most of his predecessors in the past 30 years, he serves out his term, his record will be marred by policies that had failed when first attempted in the 1980s. According to Perfiles de Opinión, a respected poll, 66 percent of the population say that Lasso’s performance is either “bad” or “very bad,” and only 2.06 percent evaluate his government as “very good.” 

  • Lasso’s immediate predecessors – Rafael Correa and Lenín Moreno – left a country shaken by corruption, debt, a bungled strategy for dealing with COVID, and paralyzed public health and education services. He did not have a working majority in the National Assembly, and his CREO Movement failed to win control of key municipal and provincial governments. 
  • From the beginning, Lasso’s approach to the economic crisis was orthodox, borrowing heavily from the neoliberal fixes attempted in Ecuador in the 1980-90s. Although his administration managed to tap into the relative openness of the IMF and other IFIs, and successfully negotiated its massive debt with China, the Ministry of Economy and Finance adopted a tight budget, cutting state investments. Recovery from the pandemic slowed. Public employment – staple of the middle class – shrank, and inflation rose. 

Opposition to Lasso’s policies started weak but has grown steadily. The Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE), which had flexed its muscles during the Moreno government, was slow to mobilize at first, creating a situation that looked very much like the early wave of neoliberal politics in the 1980s, when a center-right government was able to bypass legislative opposition and weak civil society organizations. Last June, however, a new coalition of the three major rural organizations – CONAIE, Federación de Indígenas Evangélicos (FEINE), and Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Indígenas y Negras (FENOCIN) – held a national strike (paro nacional) that effectively paralyzed the country for 18 days.  

  • The government backpedaled on its decisions to keep domestic fuel prices at international levels; to maintain low state expenditures for health and education; and to deny indigenous organizations a significant role in decision-making. Lasso reshuffled his cabinet, replacing a half dozen ministers. He opened negotiations with the rural organizations on a range of issues – spanning economic matters (i.e., fuel and food staples prices) and political ones (i.e., the designation of a new Secretario de Pueblos y Nacionalidades to replace the founding secretary Luis Pachala, who resigned in the wake of the national strike).  
  • Although the negotiations relieved some of the stress on the government, the core issues remain highly contentious, and so far, no agreement has emerged. Indigenous leaders say they are not happy with the process, and the few things agreed upon remain provisional. The Catholic Church tried to mediate but failed to progress beyond peripheral issues. In what looks like a desperate move, the government initiated a referendum process that most observers believe is intended to wrestle back the initiative on its own terms. 

The road ahead for the Lasso government is a difficult one – having essentially lame-duck status in the face of steadily mounting woes and opposition. His opponents are as strong and angry now as in June. Despite an improved fiscal stance, the government does not have the will or the capacity to expand public expenditures, so economic growth seems likely to continue at a snail’s pace, and employment will stay depressed in both urban and rural areas. The government’s unwillingness to adopt price controls will continue to fuel popular grievances. 

  • The leadership of CONAIE and others have already threatened a new nationwide mobilization and declared their opposition to the referendum initiative. Whatever support the executive was able to extract from the legislature has faded. Additionally, local government elections in 2023 are stimulating the parties to concentrate their efforts on their political fortunes.  
  • The Ecuadorian military, which played a major role in the abrupt departures of several Presidents over the past three decades, has so far avoided joining the partisan factionalism and appears united in the view that Lasso should stay. The President’s health may be as reliable an indicator as any of his fate. He recently traveled to Houston for treatment of melanoma, specifically a lesion in his right eyelid. In Quito’s churning rumor mill, convincing the population that he has been fully cured is nearly impossible. His efforts to assert his credibility as President will continue to be similarly challenged. 

* Pablo Andrade Andrade is the Germánico Salgado Chair on Andean Integration and Professor at the Department of Global and Social Studies, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Sede Ecuador. He works on comparative political economy and Latin American politics. 

Brazil: Military Looking out for Its Own Interests, Not Bolsonaro’s

By Matheus de Oliveira Pereira*

An Ordem e Progresso badge on a Brazilian soldier / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License

Despite President Bolsonaro’s bluster about rejecting the results of Brazil’s national elections on October 2nd, the military does not appear likely to intervene on his behalf – preferring instead to use its power with whoever wins the election to avoid accountability, reduce civilian oversight, and protect its own institutional interests.  

Bolsonaro worked hard during his term to curry favor with the military, giving it significant policy positions and influence.  

  • Based on data from the government’s Tribunal de Contas de União, William Nozaki estimates that more than 6,000 active military personnel took government positions during Bolsonaro’s presidency, including six critical Ministers of State. An intelligence task force created by interim President Temer in 2018 is now dominated by the military. Another 8,540 benefit from public contracts. Retired officers figure prominently in public debate with the government’s endorsement. 
  • This level of participation also reflects the military’s support – at least implicit – for Bolsonaro’s political project. General Eduardo Pazzuelo, who was in charge of the government’s disastrous response to COVID-19, is running for Congress as a member of his party. In São Paulo, General Tarcísio de Freitas is running for governor as an ally as well. Bolsonaro, a retired officer himself, is seeking the presidency again with a general officer as his running mate. 
  • Some officers claim that they have been a moderating force on the President’s impulses. Like the party’s Centrão group, they say they’re pushing for a more “presidential,” less divisive style by the Executive. The divisions in the party, however, are mostly for image rather than reflective of real cleavages, as are the claims of military officers, who frequently embrace Bolsonaro’s conspiratorial allegations about electronic voting machines and other matters.  

Most officers believe it is crucial to keep feeding the narrative that the security forces have not compromised their non-partisan, non-political role. They are also undoubtedly aware that a coup to keep Bolsonaro in power would face significant international resistance, particularly in the Americas. Also, backing a coup led by Bolsonaro would further deepen their role in the government in a context of tough times, mainly in the economy. 

  • Disinterest in a Bolsonaro coup project does not mean that they welcome Lula da Silva’s return as President. He still faces significant resistance in the barracks. The Army Commander, claiming he is not involved in electoral matters, has avoided contact with emissaries of Lula’s campaign. Figures close to the former president, however, have repeatedly stated that they trust the Armed Forces to respect the outcome of the polls. 

The mere speculation that the military would support Bolsonaro’s claims of fraud so seriously and allow him to remain in power is compelling evidence of how damaged Brazilian democracy and military adherence to democratic principles are. Even if the high command does not support Bolsonaro’s schemes, it seems headed to a different, and perhaps more destructive, approach to using its power – bargaining with whoever wins in October by trading military promises of non-intervention in return for civilian promises to pull back from investigations into its behavior and from future oversight. The officers will probably demand a commitment that the new government would grant an amnesty for mismanagement and corruption during the Bolsonaro years, and would not take steps to restrain their autonomy in budgetary matters. 

  • Some members of Lula’s entourage appear aware of the dangers of this scenario and are reportedly looking for creative solutions to it, especially if Bolsonaro’s base mobilizes and causes serious instability, which Lula would need security forces’ help controlling. However much Lula would want to reject a deal with the military, he may be boxed in by a lack of political support for confrontation and his own conciliatory tendencies during the campaign.  
  • If Brazil repeats the mistake it made 37 years ago – when the main political forces did not face the country’s authoritarian past nor establish mechanisms to effectively limit the military’s political autonomy – the country will again be missing a crucial opportunity to impose civilian control over the military and build a better, more robust democracy. 

* Matheus de Oliveira Pereira is a professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and at the University of Ribeirão Preto, and a researcher at the INCT-INEU and GEDES. He is a former CLALS fellow

Latin America: Empowering Young Women to Overcome Violence, Poverty, and Discrimination

By Fulton Armstrong*

Study participants take part in group discussion in Cali, Colombia / Universidad del Valle / FLACSO-Costa Rica / Creative Commons license

In addition to documenting the often-overwhelming challenges facing young women in Latin America, the Vidas Sitiadas (Besieged Lives) project coordinated by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) of Costa Rica analyzed promising approaches for empowering women to improve their lives. The solutions are not one-size-fits-all, but they address similar underlying drivers – gender inequality, systemic violence, and the chronic lack of social inclusion and economic opportunities – in Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

  • Governments have largely failed to address young women’s rights to political and economic inclusion, to protection from community violence, and to progress in reducing and ending gender-based violence. Many of the women feel like prisoners in social and cultural constructs that ignore their needs, undermine their sense of self-worth, and deprive them of the skills and self-confidence necessary to build a better life. Women who want to improve their lot in life often can’t afford the necessary education, and are held back by being from stigmatized neighborhoods, lack of basic social services and transportation, and limited access to employment.

The challenges have deep roots and defy quick fixes, but the Vidas Sitiadas studies revealed that projects addressing their underlying causes can enable progress in individuals’ lives, especially when government steps up in coordination with private companies and NGOs. The programs examined have been in place for several years, so their long-term impact is difficult to gauge, but participants’ feedback shows they are based on sound analysis and point to practical, sustainable solutions.

  • The Girasoles (“Sunflowers”) programs designed and implemented by the Paniamor Foundation in Costa Rica emphasize close collaboration among civil society and government at the national and municipal level. Located in a municipality of San José, the initiative is supported by the Ministry of Justice and Peace, the semi-autonomous National Institute for Learning (INA), and the “Civic Centers for Peace” of the area. Girasoles works with young women to overcome their sense of vulnerability through developing skills, rethinking identities, and rebuilding relationships.
  • The Primer Trabajo (“First Job”) initiative by the Arbusta Company, which specializes in information technology, and Santiago-based Espacio Público demonstrated that getting a first job is a woman’s best means to increase social and economic inclusion in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Medellín. In addition to providing on-the-job training, the company empowers women through personal development classes in areas such as listening and speaking skills, problem-solving, and dealing with violent situations. The experience has enabled some women to change homes, drop old relationships and make new ones, and feel agency over their lives for the first time.
  • The Club de Niñas (“Girls’ Club”) by Glasswing International in El Salvador has demonstrated the value of women creating social bonds while in detention facilities and after their release. The program focuses on the roots of problems that contributed to their involvement in criminal activities – poverty, exclusion, gender discrimination, and lack of opportunity. It improves young women’s ability to protect themselves from gender-specific threats and provides opportunities to replace old friendships and reduce economic dependencies that contributed to their past troubles. Interviews show the program increases their self-confidence to make and carry out decisions.
  • The Jardines Maternales (Nursery Schools), run by the Buenos Aires Municipalidad de Avellaneda, have demonstrated the value of childcare to young women who are employed, receiving assistance, or otherwise engaged in positive social interaction, according to a report by FLACSO Argentina. The program enables young women to work and develop important social capital, which also positions their children for greater stability and progress.
  • An Economic Opportunities study, carried out by the Universidad del Valle (Colombia) with young women who live in high-violence neighborhoods in Cali validated two important recommendations to support women striving to liberate themselves from the traps of inequality and exclusion. Based on in-depth interviews, the study called on governments to guarantee higher education – to build skills and enable social contacts – for women who finish secondary education and to provide early-childhood care so they can work full-time.

The problems of young women are the problems of all of society – economic, security, political, cultural – and long-term solutions therefore need the support of broad swaths of society. The Vidas Sitiadas project shows that equipping girls and young women with tools to navigate unequal and struggling economies, systemic violence, and suffocating gender roles is important – and feasible. It has provided the proof of concept and identified some concrete steps forward that alleviate the suffering and fear of at least some young women. That incremental progress is important, but macro solutions reducing or eliminating the many obstacles women face will take political will and time.

  • Government collaboration in some of the projects has already been key, and that success could provide the foundation for persuading political, economic, and security elites to broaden and deepen it. Increasing social inclusion and reducing violence in society and in the home will benefit everyone. Long-term progress will require serious reflection into deeply entrenched aspects of each country’s attitudes and practices toward women, but Vidas Sitiadas has shown that concerted action can make a difference.

This is the final of three AULABLOG articles on the Vidas Sitiadas project. The first two discussed the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on women and programs for women under detention. For additional information about the project, undertaken by FLACSO-Costa Rica and its partners with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, please consult the Vidas Sitiadas website.

September 12, 2022

*Fulton Armstrong is a Research Fellow at CLALS and Director of the AULABLOG.

Argentina: Joining the BRICS?

By Andrés Serbin*

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi pose for a G7 leaders’ photograph during a NATO summit at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022 / Michael Kappaler / Flickr / Creative Commons license

The BRICS countries’ efforts to expand the group’s influence in the Global South is giving momentum to Argentina’s bid for membership, but the timeline and outcome of the admission process is far from certain. During a virtual summit hosted by Beijing in June, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – continued efforts to revitalize the group and follow up on expansion proposals initially agreed to in 2017.

  • Conceived as an alternative to the G7 when launched in 2009, the BRICS represent 42 percent of the planet’s population, 24 percent of world GDP, and more than 16 percent of global growth, according to 2019 World Bank estimates. Each member plays a significantly different role in international affairs, but the group is moving in a unified fashion to position themselves as a decisive factor in the global governance architecture and as a voice of the “Global South” that advocates an economic and political alternative for emerging economies. Brazilian analyst Oliver Stuenkel notes that the five “share a profound skepticism of the U.S. international liberal order and perceived danger that unipolarity represents to their interests.”
  • The June summit reviewed initiatives to increase economic cooperation and development, promote multilateralism and world peace, and create a vaccine research and development center. As a reaction to Western economic sanctions, Russia proposed the development of a “de-dollarized” financial space for trade between the group’s economies – a proposal already introduced in the discussions of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the main Eurasian cooperation institution. The group also took up China’s 2017 proposal for a “BRICS Plus” – expansion to incorporate new members of the Global South, including Argentina.

The Argentina proposal faces obstacles within the BRICS even though Russia, China, and India (whose foreign minister visited Buenos Aires last week) support it and Celso Amorim, former and likely future foreign minister if Brazilian President Lula da Silva is reelected, has said Brazil will support as well.

  • Political and geopolitical challenges within the group include differences in how members relate to the international liberal order. Ties to the West vary from Russia’s more belligerent position to China’s more cautious one and India’s ambiguity. There are marked differences in their foreign policies that potential new members could aggravate.
  • Members also have different viewpoints on whether to incorporate regional integration blocs such MERCOSUR, whose own heterogeneities, tensions, and conflicts can hinder the expansion process and bloc effectiveness. At a MERCOSUR Summit in July, key leaders’ absences and a divisive debate about the signing of an FTA between Uruguay and China revealed differences. While Paraguay keeps diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the other three full members of the group have close diplomatic and economic ties with the PRC.

Argentina’s application has also given rise to divided views and opinions in the country itself. Despite the fact that all sectors of the ruling coalition can be considered “Peronists,” the current government has pursued an erratic and at times contradictory foreign policy, including conflicting positions regarding international relations, alignments, and alliances. Argentine sinologists disagree on the feasibility of membership, and many more Argentines object because it would hurt relations with the United States, Europe, and the IMF, which has recently helped the country avoid defaulting on $44 billion the Fund previously loaned it. A simultaneous application by Iran – some of whose government officials Argentine justice blames for several terrorist acts in Argentina, including the bombing of Israel’s Embassy and the Jewish local organization AMIA – doesn’t help to build consensus on the issue.

Notwithstanding the divergent opinions in Argentina and among the BRICS, interest on both sides has been persistent and shows signs of growing – even if not necessarily resulting in admission in the near future. Argentina’s interest in pursuing a relationship with the BRICS has continued through governments of different political persuasions since 2014. The need to maintain good relations with traditional partners is key, and the agreement with the IMF presents another reason for caution. It is not clear if Argentina’s incorporation could complicate its geopolitical position without yielding tangible benefits.

  • For the BRICS, the shared interest – a desire to curtail U.S. and Western influence and create a counterweight to it – helps them overcome their differences and seems unlikely to change soon, but obstacles to the evolution of the global transition they seek will also remain in the short term. However, in the context of the current debate in Latin America, BRICS expansion fits the increasing regional aspiration to promote active non-alignment amid an increasingly turbulent international order.

September 7, 2022

*Andrés Serbin is an international analyst and president of the Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research (CRIES), a regional think tank and network focused on Latin America and the Caribbean. He is also co-chair of the Asia and the Americas section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and author of Guerra y transición global (War and Global Transition), recently published.