The middle of this August in three countries of the Southern Hemisphere turned out to be hot not only because of climatic changes on the planet, but also in the political sense. Argentina held primaries to determine the main contenders for the highest office of the state, Guatemala chose its president, while Ecuador went to the second round to elect a new head of state.
What is indicatively common to the present and future reconfiguration of the regional political map of these, not yet the last, Latin American elections of 2021–2024?
The first obvious conclusion is that the people of all three countries want to get rid of the ruling regime, be it center-right or center-left. The corrupt politicians of the outgoing administrations have driven people to further stratification and bitterness, and have fragmented populations that are demanding a change in living conditions and a new «spring».
The local establishment, which has formed a «pact of corruptors» and, incidentally, perhaps for the first time somewhat distanced itself from its northern suzerain, the United States, is trying to prevent radical changes and is looking for new opportunities to strengthen its own power. The choice in favor of the «Silk Road» with China may also contribute to this.
The picture in almost all of these countries is very similar: voters throughout Latin America are tired of traditional parties and candidates, of those in power, dissatisfied with the corruption of the political elite as a whole. People do not believe the unfulfilled promises of both the left and the right, and vote for politically unengaged «outsiders». This, in turn, can lead to sad results.
The elected and still incumbent presidents realize this. None of them has run for a second term.
In short, economic collapse in Argentina, organized crime violence in Ecuador, and elite corruption in Guatemala predetermined the dynamics and «surprises» of these three elections, and led to the belated rise in popularity of unknown candidates.
The result is an election marathon filled with the lowest turnout, uncertainty and expectations.
Argentina held primary, open, simultaneous and compulsory elections on August 13, which were key to the general (presidential and legislative) elections on October 22. Perhaps for the first time in 40 years of bourgeois democracy, they were marred by discontent and apathy, reflecting not so much a tense political environment as a difficult economic and social situation. Inflation has exceeded 115%, financial reserves are reduced to the limit with a huge foreign debt — Buenos Aires owes 44 billion dollars to the International Monetary Fund alone — and the poverty rate has exceeded 40%.
Thus, in the land of tango, the two main political dancers — conservatives and Peronists — were replaced on the platform of primaries by a libertarian rock singer, extreme right-wing outsider Javier Milei. When the votes were counted, he got 30.5%, the main conservative opposition bloc got 28%, and the ruling Peronist coalition came third with 27%. The turnout was less than 70%, the lowest for a primary election.
Mr. Milei has a chance to lead Argentina, a country of 46 million people with some of the world’s largest reserves of oil, gas and lithium.
Milei, nicknamed «hairy» because of his mop of uncombed hair, is an admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump and, for reasons that are unclear, a member of the far right, in his campaign promised to introduce the U.S. dollar as Argentina’s official currency, abolish the Central Bank, legalize sex perverts and the sale of human organs, proposed closing or privatizing all state-owned enterprises and eliminating the ministries of health, education and the environment.
At his victory rally, he first publicly thanked his sister, who ran his campaign, and his five mastiff dogs. Amid this, the crowd of supporters shouted: «President, sweetest president!»
There are probably worse things that happen, but less often.
Ecuador presented «surprises» already on the eve of the extraordinary elections scheduled for August 20. Fernando Villavicencio, an antagonist of the current government and a fighter against government corruption, was assassinated by unknown persons, while criminal gangs linked to drug traffickers and power structures launched a street war in cities and towns, spreading fear and panic among the population.
Ecuador, until recently South America’s «safe haven» of 18 million people, has been turned into a hotbed of socio-economic and political tension by a Colombian drug cartel. As a result, authorities deployed more than 100,000 police officers and soldiers to protect voters from criminal gangs. The population was advised to take all precautions and to take care of their own safety.
According to the National Electoral Council, the election resulted in a runoff between leftist representative Luisa Gonzalez, who received about 33% of the vote, and outsider Daniel Noboa, heir to the «banana king,» who received about 24% of the vote.
They will have to face off in a second round of snap elections scheduled for October 15 in order to rule less than two years until the end of the unfinished term of outgoing incumbent President Lasso, according to the country’s constitution.
During this time, they will have to convince their fellow citizens that they have everything they need to curb the unprecedented levels of violence and corruption that have blossomed over the past three years.
Christian Zurita, the third-place journalist in the race, warns of the growing danger of Ecuador becoming a «failed state» because of the strong infiltration of drug trafficking into the government. It is clear that this issue cannot be solved in the time allotted to the country’s future president. And the Ecuadorians are not asking for much — only for the return of the country they have lost.
Guatemala. According to experts, August 20 was the most controversial election in Guatemala since the establishment of democracy in 1986. A ruling elite mired in corruption faced a population tired of uncertainty and poverty. Fleeing the country via Mexico to the U.S. has become a major symptom of the state’s illness. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans have «climbed» over Trump’s wall.
A total of 4.2 million Guatemalans, representing 44.9 percent of the 9.3 million eligible citizens, went to the polls to choose a new president.
Guatemalans have overwhelmingly elected an independent progressive politician as their new head of state in the second round of general elections. With 100% of the votes counted, anti-corruption advocate Bernardo Arevalo received 58% of the vote. His rival, former First Lady Sandra Torres, received 37%.
Arevalo, who can also be considered an «outsider» in the presidential election, a sociologist and diplomat, is the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, Juan José Arevalo (1945–1951). The ruling establishment seemed to have done everything to «throw out» this anti-corruption fighter, trying to keep him out of the second round. However, they failed to do so.
While the streets of Guatemala demand a new democratic spring, the «corruption pact» will seek to prevent this by making it as difficult as possible for the newly elected president to rule.
If Arevalo manages to get through this crucible and begin the painful process of rooting out deep-rooted corruption networks, the country of «eternal spring» will face a way out of a dark labyrinth: either a return to democracy or a strengthening of the authoritarian trend.
The elections in Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala are a reflection of both the vitality and challenges that electoral democracy faces in Latin America.
Latin America’s political pendulum is still undetermined. Experienced in managing its «backyard» Washington, pretending neutrality, dams up the «pink tide» of the left, preventing it from fulfilling its commitments.
Meanwhile, it is important for the left to overcome the temptation to enrich itself at the expense of the treasury and build consensus to deal with uncertainty, fix the economy and calm general discontent.
The right, in turn, has opportunities to take advantage of the left’s mistakes to make strategic moves, move their chess pieces, and reclaim territory.
Apparently, the truth is that neither political side is facing a clear checkmate. But the same question hangs in the air: Where the Southern Hemisphere is going?