What's wrong with Argentina

From Venezuela to Argentina : Mass protests, violence, deaths - what's going on in South America?

Many people have looked at South America in the past few weeks. First there was the shock of the tens of thousands of fires in the Amazon forest. There is the exodus from socialist Venezuela that has been going on for months. Millions are fleeing because there is simply nothing left to eat in the oil nation.

In October, hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians flocked to the streets against an increase in gasoline prices. The protests were so violent that President Lenin Moreno withdrew his plan. At the same time, mass protests broke out in Chile. Millions called for an end to social injustice. Chile has so far been considered the most stable nation in Latin America. Finally, President Sebastian Piñera promised reforms. It was the second victory of the demonstrators in South America within a few days.

When the left-wing Peronists came back to power in Argentina last Sunday and at the same time in Bolivia protests against the election fraud of the socialist Evo Morales tore up the country, it was clear: something historical is happening in South America.

The region is faced with two existential questions: Will it finally manage to combine economic growth with social equality? And: in the end, is democracy strong enough to overcome authoritarian rulers?

The current data doesn't look good. According to the research institute Latinobarometro, trust in democracy has never been lower since 1995. People are angry about an aloof elite, corruption and disappointed promises of prosperity.

All of this is important for Europe too. The federal government and German companies are currently placing high hopes on a revival of economic relations with South America. Behind this is the intention not to leave the region completely to the Chinese, who bring various countries into their orbit with billions in investments and loans.

The free trade agreement that the EU concluded with the South American economic bloc Mercosur should also be seen against this background. However, it could flop soon. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is considering leaving Mercosur and is annoyed by the EU's environmental regulations. Argentina's new government, in turn, rejects free trade. For their part, the Europeans have to ask themselves whether they want to eat cattle from Brazil, for which the Indians have been driven out and primeval forests cleared? South America is at a crossroads. It is unclear where the journey is going.

ARGENTINA - IN DEBT TRAP

It has to be seen positively that Argentina is currently experiencing a smooth change of government. Last Sunday the Argentines elected left-wing Peronist Alberto Fernández as president. He beat the conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri. Its economic liberalization program did not lead Argentina out of the economic crisis as promised, but intensified it. The consequences: inflation and poverty. The election campaign was accordingly heated and toxic.

Nevertheless, Macri congratulated his successor Fernández and invited him to coffee. That is actually how it should be in democracies, but nothing can be taken for granted in polarized South America. When Macri took over from Cristina Kirchner in 2015, she refused to congratulate him. Kirchner, a left bogeyman for Argentina's rights, is now coming back to power as Vice President.

Contrary to expectations, the markets reacted quite calmly to Fernández's victory. Another peso crash had been expected, but it didn't come. Even the new head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, wished Fernández all the best.

The two will soon have to negotiate the USD 57 billion loan that the IMF granted Argentina under strict austerity conditions. Because Fernández will hardly want to stick to the savings demands. He has promised investments, aid for the poor and an end to neoliberalism. How he intends to implement these projects with an empty state budget is a mystery.

Fernández set an example with his first trip abroad. It will not go to Brazil, its most important trading partner, but to Mexico. There he will speak to the left president Andres Manuel López Obrador. A few days later, Fernández will open the second meeting of the Puebla Group in Buenos Aires, an alliance of progressive forces whose protagonists are the left-wing leaders of the noughties.

BRAZIL - LARGE AND CRISIS SHIPPED

The video shows a lion. He is supposed to represent Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. He is surrounded by hyenas attacking him. Someone assigned labels to the hyenas, including the acronyms of Brazilian parties and unions. Greenpeace, the United Nations, TV stations, feminism and the Brazilian Supreme Court are also said to be hyenas.

This goes on until a second lion appears, a "conservative patriot" who supports the Bolsonaro lion. Bolsonaro posted the video on the Internet, it reflects his view of the world pretty well: While he is fighting lonely for Brazil, he is attacked cowardly from all sides.

Since January 1st, this man has ruled the most populous and economically strongest country in Latin America. His choice was the result of four crises: an economic crisis; a crisis in the political system due to numerous cases of corruption; a social crisis due to epidemic violence (64,000 murders in 2017); a media crisis because more and more Brazilians are using Facebook & Co as sources of information.

Bolsonaro made two big promises: a conservative restoration and a boost to the economy through privatization, cutting red tape and foreign investment. The latter has so far been slow because the government has to organize a majority in Congress with around 30 parties for every reform. Still, there is cautious optimism in the economy that Brazil's closed economy is becoming more dynamic. The number of unemployed is falling slightly - the rate is currently 11.7 percent.

Bolsonaro is already celebrating Saudi Arabia's promise to invest ten billion dollars in Brazil as a great success. The Saudis could thus compete with China, Brazil's most important trading partner. Should the economy pick up again, Bolsonaros could forget about dire mistakes in other areas.

So far, his term of office has been characterized by a catastrophic environmental policy, which many Brazilians also reject. Bolsonaro has cut funds and competencies from the environmental authorities. The result: The deforestation of the Amazon forest has accelerated sharply. This is not a problem for Bolsonaro, he says that he will give up the jungle for exploitation anyway. One effect of the deforestation was tens of thousands of forest fires. There is currently a strong fire in the Pantanal, the largest wetland on earth. There, the fires have increased by 462 percent this year compared to 2018.

Brazil is currently grappling with a creeping oil spill. In the northeast, oil has been washed ashore for two months. But Bolsonaro seems unwilling to do anything to counter the disaster. Evil tongues say he wants revenge on the “red” northeast, where he did not get a majority in the elections. The worst part of the rumor: it could be true. In the event that there should be protests in Brazil like in Chile, Bolsonaro has already warned: "The armed forces are prepared!"

CHILE - ONLY FOR THE RICH

How serious the situation is in Chile is made clear by the fact that President Sebastian Piñera has now canceled two international summits in the capital Santiago: the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (Apec) and the UN climate summit in early December. The reason for the cancellations: the mass protests that have paralyzed Chile for two weeks. They often end up in violence, for which the police and the military are also responsible. Officially, around 20 people have died and hundreds have been injured so far, including through the use of firearms by the security forces.

The demonstrations began in mid-October when the metro prices in Santiago were to be increased by the equivalent of three cents. They then quickly grew into protests with more than a million people against the general social situation. Today Chile is the country in the OECD with the most unfair distribution of income and wealth.

For a long time it was considered the economic showcase nation of Latin America with stable political conditions; and it was often used as a successful example of neoliberal recipes, that is, comprehensive privatizations and a withdrawal of the state even from areas such as education and health. But the bare economic data hid the reality of life for a large part of the population, for whom much was becoming unaffordable. Chile's economy worked well - for the rich.

That is why it is not enough for many demonstrators that President Piñera has dismissed a large part of his cabinet and announced social improvements. They are calling for a reform of the constitution that stems from the Pinochet dictatorship. The protests in Chile thus differ from the events in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. It's not just about a change of government, it's about a different system.

BOLIVIA - DYING DEMOCRACY

Evo Morales has a big goal: to be President of Bolivia in 2025, on the 200th anniversary of independence from the Spanish colonial empire. But now the socialist has gone too far. First he lost the referendum in 2016, which was supposed to enable him to run again forbidden by the constitution, then the constitutional court, made up of Morales judges, ruled that he can run again.

Then, after the October 20 election, there was a threat of a runoff in which he could lose to the moderate Carlos Mesa, as other defeated candidates support him. The counting was stopped and rumors of ballot boxes containing Evo ballots made the rounds. Then the Supreme Court announced: Victory for Morales in round one. The country has been in turmoil ever since.

Where Morales gave the poor, indigenous population an unprecedented appreciation, there is now a threat of division, as the richer regions in particular are mobilizing against him. The democracy researcher Yascha Mounk from Harvard University cites Bolivia as a current example of a dying democracy, key positions are gradually being filled with loyal followers and rules are suspended.

Without a doubt, the first indigenous president has done the country a lot of good since 2006: According to the World Bank, the poverty rate has fallen from 60 to 35 percent. Thanks to natural gas exports, growth was up to 6.8 percent. Instead of nationalizing everything, he entered into partnerships with foreign investors - German companies rely on access to the world's largest lithium deposits. There are new roads, airports and the Internet, plus the world's largest urban cable car network between La Paz and the higher metropolis of El Alto. A climate-friendly time-saver for hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise be stuck in traffic.

But Morale's style became more authoritarian and arrogant. The mud hut in which he was born in the barren highlands in 1959 can still be visited today. A few hundred meters further on is a monumental building, the Evo Museum of the “democratic and cultural revolution”.

More than seven million dollars, Morales wept at the inauguration, wrapped in indigenous costumes. It's his monument. The other is a swanky building on the colonial Plaza Murillo in La Paz. The Casa Grande del Pueblo, the great house of the people, is his new presidential palace, at 120 meters one of the tallest buildings in Bolivia. As he says: “I am married to Bolivia.” But the great love has grown cold.

COLOMBIA - OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS

Who would have thought that Colombia of all places would one day be seen as a haven of relative stability in South America. For decades the country was torn apart by the war between the left-wing Farc guerrillas, the military and right-wing paramilitaries. It also saw the rise of drug cartels that undermined the state. At the end of the 1990s, Colombia was considered a "failed state".

The turning point came in 2016 with the peace treaty. Since then, Colombia has been on the way to normalization. The conflict researcher Sabine Kurtenbach from the Giga Institute even praised the agreement as "the most comprehensive in the world". There is currently no danger of a relapse into war, even if in many places paramilitaries, the mafia and the small ELN guerrillas are pushing into the vacuum left by the FARC.

In fact, one has to speak of a two-part development: While land conflicts remain unsolved in poor and remote regions and leaders of social movements are murdered every week, urban areas are developing rapidly. Medellin wants to become an IT capital, invests in training and development. Another example of change: tourism grew by 9.4 percent in 2018. According to the World Bank, Colombia is one of the three best countries for investors in Latin America.

It is also important to emphasize how well Colombia is handling the arrival of two million refugees from Venezuela. 50,000 Venezuelans flow across the border in the city of Cúcuta alone every day, 5000 of whom stay in Colombia. The government of the conservative Ivan Duque, but also the population, meet them pragmatically and in solidarity. The mood could change if the number of refugees increases dramatically and Colombia's social contradictions intensify.

Likewise, isolated regions could slide into diffuse conflicts if the government continues to ignore the activities of criminal groups. The Mexican Sinaloa cartel has already emerged in the west of the country; In the department of Cauca, five indigenous people were shot dead by dissidents of the Farc guerrillas on Tuesday. This is offset by progress in the cities: In Bogotá, a woman who is openly lesbian has been elected mayor for the first time.

VENEZUELA - HELPLESSNESS EVERYWHERE

At the beginning of the year the world looked to Caracas, the president of the disempowered parliament, the 36-year-old Juan Guaido, made himself interim president. He has been recognized from Donald Trump to the EU. There were demonstrations against the socialist ruler Nicolás Maduro, deaths and violence. 4.3 million people have left the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, hunger, power outages and mismanagement drove Venezuela to ruin. But Maduro's power base held: the military.

The most powerful supporters played an important role: China and Russia. And hunger - for example, with the Carnet de Patria, people have to assure the socialists of their consent and in return receive subsidized food parcels.

Corruption flourishes in the socialism of the 21st century, several tons of gold reserves have been parked abroad under dubious circumstances. Reporting on the grievances is suppressed as far as possible. And the US is accusing the government of smuggling much of the cocaine from Colombia abroad via Venezuela. Improvement is nowhere in sight, the highest inflation in the world, the United Nations is expecting another drop in exports of 49.9 percent in 2019.

Nevertheless, Caracas in particular is often a parallel world. If you have money, you can fly to Miami in a private jet to go shopping thanks to the dirt cheap fuel. The oil became a curse, the price fell sharply at times, around 95 percent of the income comes from the export of oil. But the conveyor systems are ailing, most of the foreign companies are gone, and tourism is dead.

Recently, several members of the opposition to the EU in Brussels and the Foreign Office in Berlin were on a secret mission and pleaded for help, but there is perplexity, despite Guiado's support, it was not enough to turn around. Seventeen of the 112 opposition MPs are now living in exile, and intensified repression has broken the resistance for the time being.

Maduro now seems to be counting on early parliamentary elections in order to get a socialist majority again here and to maintain a democratic appearance. The last free elections were those for parliament in December 2016 - many thought this was the beginning of the end of the socialism experiment and of Nicolás Maduro. A fallacy.

PERU - BEAUTIFUL BUT CORRUPT

The traumas of Alberto Fujimori's authoritarian reign are still having an impact in Peru today. The father in prison, daughter Keiko almost won the election in 2016, today she is in custody herself for corruption allegations, but still has a lot of influence over the strongest party in parliament. And she is involved in a power struggle that is barely transparent even for lawyers.

President Martín Vizcarra surprisingly dissolved the congress controlled by the conservative Fujimori camp at the end of September and announced new elections for the end of January because the congressmen, above all the “Fujimoristas”, blocked his fight against corruption in the country. He is the successor to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned in the wake of the scandal surrounding the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which bribed politicians across Latin America.

Vizcarra is popular, the conflict is also about attempts by parliament to influence the judiciary more strongly - not a few fear a political comeback by Keiko Fujimori, who wants to score with a right-wing agenda and “a hard hand”. However, the Congress did not accept Vizcarra's dissolution, instead voted in favor of Vizcarra's suspension and, with the votes of the Fujimori party, appointed Fuerza Popular as the new president of Vice-President Mercedes Aráoz - Peru thus had two heads of state, but Aráoz has since declared and supported her resignation the new election plan.

The country actually shone with good data recently, 4.2 percent growth in 2018. And there is hardly any other city where you can eat as well as in Lima - celebrity chefs like Gastón Acurio support cooking schools in poor areas - young people dream of this, as he does become. Graduates often go to Dubai or Russia in order to develop the start-up capital for the dream of having their own restaurant at home. Anyone traveling in Lima also sees many impoverished Venezuelans, people have fled the crisis country here too, many women prostitute themselves, men try to earn a few soles as Uber drivers, for example.

A descendant of the von Humboldt family, Dorothee von Humboldt, had a particularly positive experience with the warmth of the Peruvians in October. She was in Lima for the 250th anniversary of the natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt and got lost in the trendy Barranco district in the evening. A couple spontaneously drove her to the hotel, found out who she was and wrote by email the next day: “It was a privilege for us to get in touch with you, a direct descendant of this highly respected scientist who has done so much for Peru . "

ECUADOR - THE POOR PAY

The parents of Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno were impressed by special minds - his first names are Lenin Voltaire. But his politics are anything but revolutionary or left-wing - he has set himself apart from his predecessor Rafael Correa, under whom he was once Vice-President and with whom he fell out hopelessly.

The small country on the equator had aroused the interest of important German companies thanks to the enormous deposits of raw materials and at times strong growth. But because of the unrest at home, Moreno had to cancel visits to Chancellor Angela Merkel and meetings with German business - under pressure from the powerful indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE, after protests, several deaths, the declaration of a state of emergency and the mobilization of the military, Moreno withdrew a decree that became one Doubling in fuel prices had led.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, he accused his predecessor Correa of ​​having just been to Venezuela and of planning a coup with Maduro's help. The fact is: In times of the oil boom, a lot was modernized, but too much was spent.

No country in the region has as much debt to China per capita as Ecuador. The giant from the Far East has secured access to the oil reserves to service the debt. Like Correa, Moreno did not want to put himself even more in the hands of the Chinese and become a colony of Beijing - he went to the International Monetary Fund. Among other things, he made the cancellation of fuel subsidies a condition for a loan of around four billion dollars, and diesel prices rose by more than 100 percent.

“That hit the small farmers and indigenous people with old tractors and cars. A study has calculated that 78 percent of the increases hit the poorest of the poor, ”says Wolf Grabendorff, director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's office in Quito. He sees analogies with the situation in other parts of the world. "Democracy acceptance has fallen sharply everywhere in the region." Ecuador is at the top. According to the Latinobarómetro, popular support for democracy fell from 69 to 50 percent between 2017 and 2018.

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