NEW CASTLE, Penn., August 17, 2015 — Although the United States is focused on conflicts and crises in the Middle East, Russia and China, trouble is brewing in Central and South America .
Both Brazil and Venezuela face increasing uncertainty as their people express growing dissatisfaction with their governments.
Brazil had been steadily emerging as a major global economic power for more than a decade. Although President Dilma Rousseff’s socialist policies have helped some Brazilians, more remain in hopeless poverty. Her policies have also caused economic dislocations and irregularities. Moreover, the country remains rife with corruption and income inequality.
Brazil is currently facing an economic slump, fueled by lower oil prices, drops in commodity prices and a downturn in China’s economy. The country is facing a contracting economy for the first time since 1990, inflation of more than 8 percent, record currency lows, a collapsing stock market, and deficit problems. Brazilians are being badly squeezed from multiple sides.
The gross mismanagement of spending on the 2014 World Cup, combined with “anti-crime” initiatives that targeted the Brazilian favelas (slums) increased popular dissatisfaction with Rousseff and led to demonstrations last year against the president and her government.
That discord has exploded this summer, sparking large-scale protests over a massive corruption scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras. The scandal involves a complex series of bribes and kickbacks from Petrobras that have reached not only the oil industry, but also banks, infrastructure and construction companies, the ruling party, and even opposition politicians. Rousseff, who has not yet been implicated in the scandal, was chairwoman of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, when the scheme reportedly took place.
Where Rousseff has made many enemies among the corrupt, self-serving power elites that ruled Brazil, her apparent involvement in the scandal is transforming her from the savior of the people into the enemy of the people.
Post-Chavez Venezuela is struggling with low oil prices, a lack of a viable economy, the failure of socialist overspending and public dissatisfaction with government oppression. Since the death of the often-confrontational socialist President Hugo Chavez, there is no longer a beloved figurehead capable of quelling the growing unrest rooted in the unfulfilled promises and failing policies of the Chavismo socialist revolution.
Venezuela’s high-valued oil reserves offered Chavez an easy and plentiful source of revenue that could be used to fuel massive socialist programs, yet the oil revenue has never been sufficient to meet all of the Venezuelan people’s needs. With suppressed energy prices feeding the fiscal woes of Venezuela, protests that started in 2014 are growing increasingly violent.
Protests against government corruption and a lack of accountability from public officials also plague Honduras and Guatemala. Protests in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador are in response to a variety of issues, but the common theme is a failure of government to respond to the interests of their people and the apparent lack of accountability for their political leadership.
The people of South America have long suffered from sharp income inequality and limited upward mobility, which has long made the region ripe for political upheaval. Political leaders of both the Left and Right have continually failed the people of Latin America.
Corruption and unresponsive governance may have sparked protests in a handful of countries, but the common socioeconomic grievances seen throughout the region make the Americas a prime location for mass unrest.
Central and South American countries have long had non- or quasi-democratic governments, but the International community is democratizing, and this process is forcing the people of the region to demand democracy that actually represents their interests.
Recalling the inspirational and infectious nature of the Arab Spring revolutions, there is a great deal of appeal to standing against self-serving, ineffective government. It may have taken a few years for revolutionary forces to build up in Latin America, but it appears the spirit of the Arab Spring may be spreading to the Americas.