by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Latin American governments with close ties to the United States could struggle to weather a storm of political protests as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies, American officials and analysts fear.
“If there was a lot of social discontent with government performance in Latin America before COVID, you can imagine in this brave new world the amount you’re going to have after,” a senior U.S. official said recently.
That forecast spells trouble for American partnerships in the region, which President Trump’s administration often refers to as the “hemisphere of freedom,” given the number of democratically elected leaders who have risen to power in recent years. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 underscored how the “pink tide” of leftist and anti-American leaders has receded in recent years, but his response to the pandemic has former allies on fire-weather watch.
“The only reason why we haven’t seen demonstrations is because of the virus,” Brazilian Sen. Sergio Olimpio Gomes said this week. “Once social distancing is over, you’ll have a scenario of hunger and desperation that may create conditions for an impeachment.” …
… The potential for protests exists far beyond Brazil’s borders, as the pandemic interferes with social and economic life throughout the region. Chile endured a national strike in November, and the simmering anger flared this week in the capital city of Santiago, where police clashed with protesters struggling with “hunger and lack of work,” according to local officials. …
… That kind of desperation could contribute to a “dramatic increase in crime and criminal violence across the region,” the senior U.S. official said, which law enforcement and security forces may struggle to manage during a pandemic. A crime wave, combined with the economic and public health crises occasioned by the pandemic, could trigger “the re-explosion of social protests” around Latin America.
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