What's with the wave of protests in Latin America?

What's with the wave of protests in Latin America?

Across the globe, people are hitting the streets to demand changes from their governments. But one region where discontent with current leaders seems particularly widespread at the moment is Latin America. Consider the following:


Chile: One of the region's most prosperous and stable nations is also one of the most unequal countries on earth by some measures. That's why a recent 3 percent metro fare increase in the capital, Santiago, touched off massive ongoing (and spectacularly musical) protests across the country that threaten the survival of center-right president Sebastian Pinera's government.

Bolivia: Protesters and general strikers are demanding a recount of last week's presidential election, in which stalwart left-winger Evo Morales skirted term limits and won a fourth term under apparently fishy circumstances.

Argentina: Voters on Sunday booted market-friendly President Mauricio Macri after just one term, giving a fresh chance to the left-populist Peronists who had run the country until Macri's own upstart victory in 2015.

Honduras: Protesters want the ouster of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose brother was just convicted in a US court of "state sponsored drug trafficking." Hernandez was already on thin ice with his own people: in 2015 he maneuvered around term limits and last year won re-election in a controversial vote marred by fraud allegations and violent protests.

Haiti: Violent protests calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, who is implicated in a corruption scandal, have paralyzed the country and threatened to unleash a humanitarian disaster in what is already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Ecuador: Hundreds of thousands took to the streets recently in anger at a fuel subsidy cut meant to help balance the budget and reduce emissions. While the subsidies have been restored and the protests have ended, the government is in the same difficult position as before: how to balance its books without angering a population reluctant to make fresh sacrifices while elites live in luxury.

Uruguay: The progressive Broad Front coalition has governed since 2005, but with the economy flagging and crime rising, their presidential candidate Daniel Martinez on Sunday failed to win outright in the first round of the country's presidential elections. As a result, the youthful center-right candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle is positioned to pull off an upset in the November 24 runoff.

Why so mad? In the first decade and a half of the 21st century, Latin America had it pretty good. A commodity boom lifted all boats, bringing tens of millions of people out of poverty. But as people's horizons began to expand, so did their expectations: of continually rising living standards, cleaner governments, safer cities, improved schools, and better roads.

The end of the commodity boom left a lot of ill-prepared governments high and dry, while a rash of corruption scandals rocked the region. And although inequality has fallen over the past twenty years, it's still stubbornly high.

This isn't about left vs right, it's about outsiders vs insiders. Nearly 80 percent of Latin Americans say existing parties don't govern in the popular interest, up from about 60 percent ten years ago, according to the pollster Latinobarometro. In just the past two years, for example, Brazil has elected an upstart from the radical right as president, while Mexico voted in a leftwing nationalist.

Things aren't going to get any easier. People's expectations and grievances are high, but governments have less money to spread around. Expect the social rumblings in the region to get worse before they get better.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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