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2018: Latin America’s Electoral Roller Coaster

Episode 11 of Altamar breaks down Latin America’s monster electoral calendar in 2018, with a focus on what promise to be particularly contentious elections in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

Peter and Muni are joined by Venezuelan author and political scientist Moisés Naím, who weighs in on broader trends in the region. Moisés points to some encouraging developments in a region that no longer accepts rampant corruption as the norm.

“For decades in Latin America, corruption was taken as a fact of life, as normal as the air you breathe. And the notion that you, as a citizen, could change that, it was never seriously contemplated,” he says. “Well, that has changed.”

But while Latin American electorates have become increasingly vocal about their demands, bloated political parties have been slow to catch up. And that, he warns, risks eroding public trust in very necessary structures.

“Nobody like political parties. Nowadays people like NGOs; they like what we’ve come to call ‘movements,'” says Moisés. “But we need political parties. I am convinced of that. A democracy without a solid party system is very weak. It’s vulnerable to charlatans, terrible simplifiers, and populists.”

Dissatisfaction with parties is on full display in the “Big Three” of 2018, notes Muni. From Mexico to Brazil to Colombia, traditional politicians are doing all they can to distance themselves from the political establishment.

“Voter disgust with political parties has forced these politicians – I think, in a very hypocritical way – to run outside their parties and pretend to be independents,” she says. “It’s an attempt at pretending that there is no machinery and that they are these ‘free thinkers’ who are going to change the country. I’m not sure how successful it’ll be.”

Establishment mistrust and dissatisfaction could risk putting some very unsavory candidates in power, notes Peter, especially in Brazil. Latin America’s current upheaval has brought millions to the streets in protest this year, and populists are working overtime to capitalize on that anger.

But, he says, this could very well be a transformative period for Latin America, potentially a very positive one.

“There’s a good part to all of this. There’s a flip side of the coin, which is more transparency, more political participation, more concern with the national community.”

In the end, the hosts agree to go into 2018 with cautious optimism and a focus on some of the the more encouraging underlying trends. Whatever the outcomes of the upcoming elections, there’s no doubt that we’re witnessing a broader maturation of Latin American societies.

The episode is available for streaming and download.


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