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Luisa Vieira

Is Latin America’s new “pink tide” for real?

Since it’s August we obviously can’t ask much of you, but try this for fun: take out a red marker and a black and white map of Latin America.

Now, color in all the countries currently led by leftist leaders. You’ll immediately be filling in five of the largest economies — Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Perú. By October, you’ll likely have added Brazil, the biggest of them all.

Along with stalwart leftists in Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and the new presidenta of Honduras, your map will have a big splash of rojo/vermelho bigger than any we’ve seen in at least 15 years. That’s when observers first hailed — or feared — a new “pink tide” in Latin America.

But is the region really back in the red, so to speak? Or is this pink tide different from previous ones? Spoiler: they are not the same. Let’s look at what’s going on.

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Sergio Massa attends an event after the 2021 midterm elections in Buenos Aires.

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

What We’re Watching: Argentina’s super minister, China-Zambia debt deal, Ukrainian grain trader dead

Can a "super minister" save Argentina?

Argentina's embattled President Alberto Fernández has appointed Sergio Massa, the influential leader of the lower house of parliament, to head a new "super ministry" that Fernández hopes will help steer the country out of a deep economic crisis. Massa, Argentina's third economic minister in less than a month, will oversee economic, manufacturing, and agricultural policy. He has his work cut out for him owing to soaring inflation, farmers demanding tax relief, and a recent run on the peso. Massa also needs to convince the IMF that Argentina will comply with the terms of its $44 billion debt restructuring deal. There's a political angle too: he's (arguably) the strongest candidate the left-wing Peronista coalition has to run for president next year if the unpopular Fernández drops his bid for a second term. Massa is one of very few politicians who can navigate the ongoing rift between the president and his powerful VP, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. If the new "super minister" does a good job, he'll be in pole position for a 2023 presidential run; if he fails, the ruling Peronistas will face long odds to stay in power.

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Argentina's VP Cristina Fernández de Kirchner waves at supporters next to President Alberto Fernández at the closing campaign rally before the 2021 midterm elections in Buenos Aires.

REUTERS, Paige Fusco

War of the Fernandezes in Argentina

Argentina's leftwing government is led by two people named Fernández: President Alberto Fernández and his vice president, the almost equally powerful former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The two have always been odd bedfellows, and often clash over policy. But lately their disagreements have reached fever pitch, fueling rumors of a split that could hurt the president's reelection odds next year amid a worsening economic crisis: sky-high inflation, a plummeting peso, capital controls, and Argentina's usual piling debt.

Why don't the president and the VP get along, and what does that mean for Argentina's political future? We get some clarity from Eurasia Group's Daniel Kerner and Luciano Sigalov.

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Pro-Russian troops ride through the city of Lysychansk in Luhansk, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: Russia captures Donbas province, Sri Lanka runs out of fuel, Argentine economic jitters

Russia takes Luhansk

President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk province on Monday, a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last bastion of resistance there. Luhansk is one of two provinces — along with Donetsk — that make up the Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014. Capturing Luhansk will free up the Kremlin's military resources to attack Donetsk, about half of which is now under Russian control. Seizing the entire Donbas would be a big win for Russia that some analysts predict might lead to Putin declaring a unilateral ceasefire. Over time, the Russian leader may hope this will dampen Western support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia. For his part, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky recognized the defeat but vowed to continue fighting to reclaim the territory. Although that seems unlikely in the near term, perhaps Zelensky is buying time so he can secure more weapons from his Western allies to mount a counter-offensive against the Russians. Now that the war increasingly looks like it's headed to a deep freeze in the Donbas, both sides are signaling that they intend to play the long game.

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Activists demonstrate with a cardboard depicting late President Juan Domingo Peron and Maria Eva Duarte Peron, as Argentines demonstrate in support of Fernandez's administration as they celebrate the Loyalty Day, which commemorates the massive mobilization by supporters of Peron to demand his release after he was imprisoned, in 1945, in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 17, 2021.

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

The end of Peronismo in Argentina?

Argentina is famous for tango, literary greats like Jorge Luis Borges, and for producing (arguably) the world's two best soccer players of all time in Diego Maradona and Leo Messi. It's the third-largest economy in Latin America, and a global agricultural powerhouse.

Unfortunately, the country is also known for chronic political instability and has long been tagged an economic basket case — the direct result of successive populist governments spending beyond their means, and getting others to foot the bill for their mismanagement.

Messy politics and economic emergencies are all too common in Argentina. But after Sunday's midterm elections, Argentines can expect an especially rocky next two years.

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A man reacts during a rally to support the National Defense Force and to condemn the expansion of the Tigray People Liberation Front fighters into Amhara and Afar regional territories at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 8, 2021.

REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.

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Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez attends a ceremony to announce new agro-economic measures inside the museum of Casa Rosada presidential palace, in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 30, 2021.

Mati­as Baglietto/NurPhot

What We're Watching: Argentina's midterm elections

Argentina votes, ruling party in deep trouble. Argentines go to the polls this coming Sunday to vote in the country's midterm legislative elections, with the ruling leftwing coalition of President Alberto Fernández bracing for heavy losses in both houses of parliament. The result will likely reflect the outcome of last September's primary elections, where the president's allies got clobbered by the center-right opposition. Since then, Fernández has caved to pressure from his powerful VP, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation), to double down on social spending and government intervention in the economy to curb skyrocketing inflation. But it hasn't worked: Fernández has capped prices on a whopping 1,432 products, yet annual inflation remains over 50 percent. Without a senate majority, it'll be very hard for the president to get much done in the second half of his term at the worst possible time: economists fear Argentina may stiff the IMF on part of the $45 billion it owes early next year. Another default could lead to a run on banks like in 2001, when the country suffered one of its worst financial crises ever. With presidential elections not on the horizon for another two years, buckle up for a lot of political instability until then.

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