Latin America and the Caribbean: forecast for 2022

Photo source: Adalberto Roque / AP via Chicago Tribune

2022 will likely be a turbulent year, but ultimately very difficult for Latin America, the Caribbean and the Biden administration’s engagement in the region. The year will begin with the hope that the region slowly regains the upper hand in its battle against COVID-19, and that the streak continues of center-left party victories, the consolidation of authoritarian populism and the advancement of the La people. Republic of China (PRC) will not have the negative consequences that some fear. By the end of the year, that optimism will likely be strained by a combination of problematic behavior from the radical left and authoritarian populist regimes, further significant electoral advances from the populist left, and growing challenges from organized crime. , political instability, fiscal and economic crises. , and refugee flows. The year is also likely to feature continued diplomatic, economic, political and security penetration of the region by the PRC, as well as a particularly weakened US voice in multilateral affairs and bilateral political and security engagement to address these challenges.

A hopeful start?

In the first months of the year, the newly elected radical left-wing government of Xiomara Castro in Honduras will likely seek to establish positive relations with the Biden administration, building on common development interests, justice social protection, protection of disadvantaged groups and cooperation to prosecute corrupt actors. linked to the outgoing regime of Juan Orlando Hernández. Indeed, Castro could delay his campaign pledge to diplomatically recognize the PRC to avoid deteriorating relations with Washington, while seeking more concessions from his longtime partner Taiwan. In Chile, the inexperienced incoming Boric administration, hampered by a divided Congress, may move slowly and seek consensus, leading some to speculate that conservative fears of Boric becoming a new Salvador Allende were overblown. Likewise, Pedro Castillo’s regime in Peru will continue to be hampered by its own internal difficulties and a conservative, albeit fragmented, Congress.

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In Mexico, expanding economic engagement, new security cooperation agreements, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador’s hopes that Congress Democrats will pave the way for citizenship for Mexicans in the United States. , will create the illusion of a reasonably healthy US state. Relationship with Mexico.

In Costa Rica, the centrist National Liberation Party (PLN) could win in the February national elections and be forced to govern moderately with a multiparty congress.

In Colombia, the increasingly visible consequences of the turn to the left in the rest of the region, particularly in neighboring Venezuela, could lead the country to rally to a centrist alternative to the ex-guerrilla M-19 Gustavo Petro at the presidency or to elect a Congress which limits its ability to impose a radical program if elected.

Pro-American voices like Iván Duque in Colombia, Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador, Luis Abinader in the Dominican Republic, Irfaan Ali in Guyana and Luis Lacalle Pou in Uruguay will superficially reassure that despite the victories of a wide range of left-wing groups in the region , the United States still has many friends.

In countries ranging from El Salvador and Nicaragua to Peru, Bolivia and Chile, governments face an environment of uncertainty and budgetary constraints resulting from continued spending against COVID-19 and associated lockdown measures. In this context, Chinese projects will probably move slowly and Chinese loan offers will have few takers. Some Chinese projects, like the Las Bambas mine in Peru, will be compromised by social unrest, leading some to point out the limitations of PRC-based companies and the exaggerated nature of the Chinese threat.

Although all the bad things don’t could happen in Latin America what will happen, the occurrence of some, if not all, of the following events is likely to sour the optimism that some will find in early 2022:

In Venezuela, increased oil production, aided in part by the re-engagement of the China National Oil Development Corporation, will complement Russian arms, Iranian support and an emboldened Nicolás Maduro to increase Venezuela’s risks to its neighbors. Violence involving terrorist groups in Venezuela, such as the FARC and ELN, will increase the prospect of military action spilling over into the territory of Venezuela’s neighbors.

In Chile, the influence of the Communist Party in Boric’s coalition, combined with the frustration of his attempts to accommodate the right and the center, the facilitating effect of Chinese money and Boric’s need to rally his base to approve the new draft constitution likely to be released in the middle of the year, will likely radicalize his government’s policies.

In Brazil, which comprises almost half of the population and the landmass and more than a third of the economy of South America, the Workers’ Party (PT) and its leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, radicalized since his incarceration, are more and more likely to be elected in October, changing in a decisive way the balance in the multilateral institutions such as Mercosur, CELAC and the OAS.

In Argentina, the government’s inability to honor large debt payments in 2022, combined with its hard line to renegotiate them, could lead to another default on its IMF loans. A default would strengthen the hand of the radical wing of the Peronist movement of Cristina Fernández de Kircher and accelerate the Argentine government’s accession to China, including not only loans, but also rail, hydroelectric, nuclear, infrastructure projects. solar and other and increased investment in lithium extraction. The need for Chinese money can help Argentina’s formal commitment to buy the Chinese fighter FC-1 (a decision expected in 2022), and other strategic cooperation such as the presence of the PLA in the installation. of space radar in Neuquén and a possible role in the new polar logistics. based in Ushuaia.

In Costa Rica, the inability of the new government to respect the austerity measures, postponed after the elections, could force the new administration and increase its interest in turning to the PRC to finance investment projects.

In Mexico, AMLO’s possible frustration with the likely failure of a realistic path to citizenship for Mexicans in the United States, escalating tensions over its anti-trade initiatives in the electricity sectors, oil and others, its growing dependence on PRC funding for projects from Tren Maya and the Bacanora lithium deposits to PRC-owned Zuma Energy, and increasing pressure from the administration Biden on security cooperation and anti-corruption initiatives will likely force AMLO to take an increasingly anti-American posture.

In Honduras by the end of the year, more radical actors within the Partido Libre, backed by Cuba and Venezuela, could force a possible break with the Biden administration and Castro’s recognition of the PRC to escape dependence on Western investments.

In Nicaragua, the reappearance in November 2021 of the Chinese developer Wang Jing suggests a possible resurrection in 2022 of the Nicaraguan interoceanic canal project. In 2022, the new Nicaragua-China relationship could also lead to purchases of Chinese military equipment, as well as cooperation on security issues and surveillance and information architectures, complementing Russia’s role in make Nicaragua less isolated, less broke and therefore more threatening. .

As for the China-Taiwan competition, 2022 will likely see the Caribbean become a new area of ​​interest, including the possibility of a turnaround by the current government of Saint Lucia (which currently recognizes Taiwan but previously recognized the PRC) , or by the next government in Haiti. As the region moves past the economic cripple of COVID-19, a range of temporarily blocked Chinese projects may begin, and the role of Chinese companies in 5G, biotech, ridesharing and other e-commerce will help make the impression seem as companies based in the PRC companies are advancing everywhere.

Across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the deteriorating security situation and the continued influence of organized crime will highlight the cost of the United States’ lost ability to engage, let alone substantially influence, its partners in the region, even little El Salvador. , on issues of organized crime, immigration or China, or ensure cooperation on these issues within once reliable multilateral institutions such as the OAS.

This visibly weakened US posture will contribute significantly to the Republican Party’s recapture of the House of Representatives in the US midterm elections of November 2022. The result will likely be more conflict, stagnation and attention to growing challenges for US citizens. United States in the Western Hemisphere, although these are unlikely to be meaningful solutions under a divided Congress.

In short, in 2022, the United States will discover that after a few first signs of hope, the hemisphere to which it is intimately linked by geographic, commercial and family ties is more dangerous, less democratic, less stable, less willing to cooperate. , and more engaged than ever with its extra-regional rivals. The predictions are flawed, however. It is possible that some of the glimmers of hope expected at the start of the year will not materialize and the region will dip more quickly into crisis.

Evan ellis is a Latin American research professor at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the US Army War College. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the position of the Army War College or the United States government.

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