The Underpinnings Of Governance Crises In Latin America


From leftist populism to market-orientated liberalism, governments of each type have been plagued by incompetence, corruption, and a failure to meet social demands, resulting in the recent civil unrest in Latin America. This article will look specifically at Chile and Bolivia, both of which are experiencing mass protests, while functioning with completely different models of government. Consequently, it can be said that, irrespective of the extreme political philosophies that hold and take power in Latin American states, anger at the political systems as a result of the unmet expectations of the commodity boom aren’t going to go away, unless inequality is addressed.

From roughly 2003 to 2013, Latin America experienced growth rates at an average of 3.5 percent a year, showing such promise that the Inter-American Development Bank subsequently proclaimed that this would be “the decade of Latin America”; however these hopes were left unrealized. After the initial commodities boom that lifted millions out of poverty, the International Monetary Fund has stated that Latin America will be the world’s slowest-growing region this year and next, with growth of just 0.2 percent predicted for 2019.  This is a paradigmatic example of what happens when a population climbs out of extreme poverty and then struggles to achieve further development: economic stagnation becomes an inevitability, inequality begins to thrive and the population becomes disenchanted with the political establishment, in the case of Latin America, indiscriminately of certain models of government.

Under free market-orientated policies, Chile has experienced growth without equity, it is one of the world’s most unequal states, the enormous economic growth benefited the affluent, and did nothing for working and middle-class people. The free market reforms were implemented by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990, and are widely attributed to Chile’s economic dynamism, so much so, that even after Pinochet’s exit, governments have mostly left the dictatorship-era economic system in place, though growth has been stagnating and slowly ripping Chile’s social fabric apart. The conservative government of Sebastian Pinera continued this market-orientated tradition and coupled it with a promise of an iron fist response to social movements, the population was looking for a repeat of the economic dynamism, however, their wish was not granted.  This tension cumulated in protests over a fare rise, which has, in turn, led to almost a month of violent protests, causing casualties and extensive property damage, challenging Chile’s image as South America’s most stable and richest nation. The market-orientated liberalism that has characterized Chile for so long is ultimately leading to its unrest, systematic change is necessary. However, the political reverse is also problematic, as can be seen in Bolivia.

Not so long ago, Evo Morales, the longstanding president of Bolivia, seemed headed for re-election. Now, Morales is on exile in Mexico while his country is in political turmoil. Morales, seen by many as a symbol of left-wing movements in Latin America, served as Bolivia’s first indigenous president after his party, Movement for Socialism, won the 2005 election. The most pertinent factor in his demise is the existence of frustration and discontent as gains made during the commodity boom have slowed or slipped backwards. Bolivians are disenchanted and when Morales violated electoral rules to stay in power for a fourth term, this acted as a catalyst for the civil fragmentation that has occurred.

The political left and right of Latin America are both struggling to address social unrest; whether the governments practice leftist populism or market-oriented liberalism, crises are ubiquitous in the region. This is for the reason that economic growth has slowed substantially in recent years, only exacerbating inequality and creating the tension that has led to the crisis of Governance in Latin America.

Zac Williams