Frustation Takes Down Socialism in Latin America

Jose Coronado, Columnist

This year has seen many changes to the Latin American governments of Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela. The socialist governments that have lead these countries the last few years have fell short on their promises to bring prosperity and economic well-being to their countries. When former president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, he promised economic prosperity and economic justice to the people of Venezuela. He created social programs to fight poverty and reduce inequality. However, the reforms and the programs Chavez created shifted Venezuela’s economic trajectory away from that of a growing economy towards a collapsing economy within decade. Chavez’s strategies to end poverty and reduce income inequality were excessively aggressive toward the middle class and upper classes. He started to nationalize businesses, buildings, industrial complexes and places for entertainment simply because they belonged to rich people. These measures and the increase in corruption resulting from Chavez’ nepotism and abuses of power have plunged Venezuela into one of its worst economic crises of this century, featuring, among other things, a shortage of basic materials like toilet paper, milk and food.

The socialist governments of Argentina and Bolivia also came to power because people hoped they could bring economic prosperity and reduce rampant income inequality. Yet, these governments have had the same deficiencies as the Venezuelan government: widespread abuses of power and corruption. These problems have brought these countries into situations similar to the Venezuelan economic and political crisis.

This year has been important because both of these countries have finally experienced political change. In Argentina, the socialist government of Cristina de Kirchner lost the elections and in Bolivia, citizens voted against a third term for President Evo Morales, who now faces accusations of providing millions of dollars in contracts to the company of a woman he had an affair with. In Venezuela, the situation is complicated but there have been many attempts to affect change in a country where many are tied to a socialist government President Nicolas Maduro now leads.

One common thread tying these countries’ politics together is frustration: all three socialist governments promised to be different from the previous right-wing governments. They promised to alleviate the socioeconomic plight of the poor, but have in fact exacerbated the issue. They have lost the faith of the people that once believed in them. Another characteristic these governments share is their increasingly authoritarian policies–they prohibit competition, intimidate political adversaries and use federal funds to help their parties win elections. The search for Hugo Chavez’s successor in the 2013 elections was marked by accusations of fraud, as well as protests throughout the country labeling the government fascist and corrupt. In Argentina, many collaborators close to president Kirchner, including the vice president, have been similarly accused of amassing fortunes while in office.

I point to Latin American political fatigue as the explanation for why these governments are so unpopular and why one already lost office. These days people in Bolivia talk of impeaching a president when a month ago almost half of the population wanted to modify the constitution to provide the opportunity for a third term. In Venezuela, the main leader of the opposition is Henrique Capriles, a young man who studied in the United States and occupies the center of the political spectrum. In Argentina, right-wing candidate Mauricio Macri won, despite the fact that Argentinians had never before elected a right-wing government. Argentinians may have been convinced by Macri’s proposals to champion fiscal responsibility and a fight against corruption, but a possibly bigger factor in his victory was overwhelming frustration with Kirchner.

It is good that people in Latin America are punishing officials and political parties in elections by choosing other alternatives. But if this popular outcry against corruption and ineffective politics shifts towards complacency and belief in impossible promises, these new governments will simply commit the same mistakes and chaos will reign again. A brighter Latin American future is dependent on the people’s ability to remain privy and vocal against the cyclic deficiencies and depravity of their governments.