Where Is Latin America Heading?
ANYONE LOOKING at the tangled politics of the hemisphere today might conclude that the region has traveled backwards in a time capsule. In one country, a prominent populist leader receives an avowed enemy of the U.S. and pledges solidarity in their mutual fight against "imperialism." In another, a presidential candidate campaigns and wins on a promise to default on his country's debt. And in yet another, a former guerrilla leader close to Fidel Castro assumes power. Even in nations with long-standing democratic institutions, political polarization and popular protest are challenging stability.
This could be a vivid description of Latin America in the 1970s or 1980s. Except it isn't. It's Latin America in 2007.
Pessimists might say this only proves little has changed in a hemisphere that was supposed to have healed from the wounds inflicted by revolutionary rhetoric and populist romanticism.
True, populism appears to have made a comeback in the region. Yes, inequality, corruption, poverty, and rising crime continue to provide fertile opportunities for political agitation and extremist solutions. This has been compounded by the failure of the much-lauded economic gains of the last decades to trickle down to the poorest levels of Latin American societies. Nonetheless, the political environment differs significantly from Latin America's not-so-distant past, and as a result, so too do the opportunities.
Latin American politics are more complex, advanced, and diverse than they appear. And the political trends reflect those differences. The real question is: where are those trends taking the hemisphere's still-young democracies? Where, in other words, is Latin America heading?
For the inaugural issue of Americas Quarterly, we look at what has changed and what hasn't in Latin America-from politics, economic policy and business practice to citizen connectivity through the Internet-and what this means for all of us in the hemisphere. …