By RICARDO CASTILLO
One mistake many international economists make is dumping all Latin American nations into a bag, shaking it up and coming up with a bingo is thinking that they are all the same.
These analysts learn the hard way that each LatAm nation is different, not just in size – don’t compare neighboring Belize to Guatemala, for instance – but also politically and economically, different to dire extremes.
This huge differential became obvious this past weekend in which the concept of democratic socialism and neoliberalism clashed head-on in different nations.
In Chile, considered LatAm’s jewel of the neoliberal economic policies that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States have pushed during the past 40 years, discontent became more than apparent on Friday, Oct. 25, as 1.2 million protesters took to the streets after several days of riots that left over 20 people dead in clashes between protesters and authorities.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera promised – in response to the people’s show of discontent with his mandate and a massive call for his resignation – to make changes in his cabinet, which he announced on Monday, Oct. 28, shaking up all eight of the economy management-related posts, including the Treasury and the Labor Ministries.
The question being, what happened to the Chilean Dream of wellbeing and equal sharing for all? The root of the protest was and is economic inequality, which is compared to the outcome of neoliberal economic policies wherever instituted.
Chile, nevertheless, has been LatAm’s most prosperous nation since it became a democracy in 1990, achieving an impressive 4.4 percent GDP growth and diminishing the poverty rate by 40 percent. The country’s per capita income rate is $16,000 a year and growing. It is forecast that by year 2022, the per capita income will jump to as much as $30,000 a year.
What happened? Perhaps the best answer is in an interview former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos had with the Spanish international daily El País.
“The protest is normal, due to what has happened,” Lagos said. “People have good reasons to take to the streets. We had a poverty rate of 40 percent, and it has been diminished to 10 percent in the past 30 years. This new upward aspirations of 30 percent has new demands. The first is to never be poor again, but the second is the need to have the state provide more public goods than it has before. Public goods that allow for a better education, better health services, better old age living. In other words, to have society advance in a way that we are all equal in dignity. That’s what philosopher Norberto Bobbio calls the civilizing minimum. Every society, he says, has to have something to do in the making of all citizens equal.”
Lagos proposed that the Chilean administration find a way to increase income through stiffer taxation, which, of course, will also be met with a loud ouch from affluent Chileans.
Meantime, Argentina went to the polls on Sunday, Oct. 27, and elected social-democrat Alberto Fernández, defeating incumbent President Mauricio Macri. Running along with Fernández was former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
In a different election in neighboring Uruguay, former Montevideo leftist Mayor Daniel Martínez managed to pull a draw with conservative neoliberal Luis Lacalle Pou, which reeled them to a second round election.
In Bolivia, despite of a massive protest against alleged fraud, leftist incumbent Evo Morales was declared the winner, and on Monday, Oct. 28, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said he was going to call Morales to congratulate him on winning another term. Many leftists, however, see Morales as an imitator of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, as someone who want to perpetuate himself in power.
Again, the situation in these four South American nations is as different as day and night from each other. About the only thing they share is common are borders, but when it comes to defining them as “Latin American,” they are all taking different paths to what every human being wishes to get from a government: wellbeing.
That goal, however, is so difficult to achieve, particularly in up-and-coming nations as the aforementioned countries, each with totally different political and financial situations.
A final note is that the demise of neoliberalism began last year with the victory of now-Mexican President López Obrador, an avid enemy of neoliberal policies, and indeed it has the rest of LatAm looking to Mexico as a guiding light, forgetting perhaps that these same policies have done wonders for Chile. Both nations cook in different pots.