South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
Latin Americans are bracing themselves for the prospect that Donald Trump could become the 45th president of the United States – ironically, at a time when technocrats are in the ascendant in a region notorious for its populist leaders. Indeed, sometimes awkward comparisons between the US property tycoon and Latin America’s most infamous populist of recent times, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, have abounded in the media.
Notice, however, that no one is yet comparing “the Donald” with Chávez’s oafish and obdurate successor, Nicolás Maduro. Divine intervention appears to have staved off the worst in Venezuela for now, although the threat of further street protests remains. No progress has been made in fixing the plight of ordinary Venezuelans – even if their unenviable predicament can, sometimes, bring out the best in people, not just the worst. Just to make the tense situation even more precarious, the threat of default continues to hang over Venezuela’s nearly $100bn in foreign debt, despite the recent debt swap by PDVSA, the state oil company.
Venezuela is not the only country in the region in which citizens are fed up with their political overlords. The second round of local elections in Brazil on Sunday showed that disenchantment with the country’s dysfunctional political system remains as strong as ever, despite the ouster of their unpopular president two months ago. A record number of voters either abstained or opted for political outsiders. The turnout was far worse in recent municipal elections in Chile, where little more than a third of voters bothered to go to the polls. But even though the result of Colombia’s recent referendum over its peace negotiations with the Farc rebels was a disappointment for many, officials argue that there is still good reason to be optimistic.
Certainly, no one in the hemisphere has it worse than the Haitians. Not only do they have to put up with politicians who are manifestly incapable of fixing their country’s chronic problems, but those on the south of the island are having to cope with the devastation wreaked a month ago by the fiercest storm in nearly half a century. Their response to how they will rebuild their shattered lives after Hurricane Matthew is always the same: “Bondye konnen” – only God knows.
Quote of the week
“It is a game of chicken. Will there be a crash, or will one side swerve out of the way first?” - Felipe Pérez, former Venezuelan minister