By Carl Meacham, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (@CSIS) in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
This week, amidst political turmoil that has gripped the country and left more than a dozen dead and hundreds more injured and detained, Venezuela commemorated the passing of President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was best known for his “Bolivarian Revolution,” through which he pursued aggressive, state-centered approaches to alleviate the social, political, and economic challenges facing Venezuela. And by some metrics he was successful – between 2004 and 2012, the country’s poverty rate halved, and literacy and access to healthcare increased substantially.
But Chávez also left behind a country deeply divided along political and socioeconomic lines, one suffering from skyrocketing crime and violence and bogged down by economic instability. Is his successor, Nicolás Maduro, now reaping the seeds of discontent sown by Chavismo?
For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
We were struck by a strange proposal this week. A top Argentine leader says his country should move the national capital from Buenos Aires in the east, facing the Atlantic, to a new city up in the north, closer to the Pacific. This would be an immense change – akin to Brazil moving the capital to Brasilia. It would be a shame to see Buenos Aires abandoned. But the idea that Argentina needs some shaking up is exactly right.
A few weeks ago, we ran a report titled “How To Ruin Your Economy.” In five easy steps, it showed how a country could turn itself into a basket case by bad decisions. The segment was about Venezuela…but Argentina is a worthy runner-up.
It starts out much stronger than Venezuela. Remember, Argentina is part of the G-20, the group of 20 big economies. The average Argentine earns more than the average Indian and Chinese combined. But all these facts mask a troubling trend.
Let’s see how it fared on our five-point test.
By Oliver Kaplan, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Oliver Kaplan is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.
A year ago today, peace negotiators in Colombia began working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to end a nearly 50-year bloody conflict, one that by some estimates has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Colombians and forcibly displaced over 4 million more. Although the government and rebels have continued to fight during talks, there is a sense of optimism after progress came on a long-running sticking point: political participation. Indeed, the lead government negotiator, a former vice president, has hailed the breakthrough as a “new democratic opening.”
So what exactly has changed?
True, there were some anxious months after talks stalled following a deal in May on land reform issues. But the latest breakthrough calls for new rights for political opposition movements, in addition to citizen participation and input in policymaking. This progress has sparked optimism as much for the manner in which it has come about as for the shift itself.
This is literally not your grandfather’s peace process. To resolve the grave conflict of the 1950s known as The Violence, which took the lives of an estimated 220,000 Colombians, talks among Colombia’s main political parties occurred far away, in Spain. And although the 1956 Benidorm Pact ended the worst of the partisan killing and was eventually ratified by a plebiscite, it was crafted by elites, without public input.
In contrast, today’s negotiations have been much more participatory than past negotiations. The talks have been held closer to home, in Havana, with negotiators shuttling back and forth to Colombia. There has also been participation and input during the negotiations, not just for a final seal of approval. Public forums were held in Bogotá and regional peace tables were held around the country. Colombians also directly submitted more than 5,000 comments to negotiators through an internet platform, while the final agreement is to be ratified by a public vote. Such a level of public engagement is no surprise given that in 1997, at the height of the conflict, millions of Colombians voted for a “mandate for peace” to push for negotiations.
Still, the government has been performing a balancing act: encouraging enough participation for input through formal channels, but not so much that it derails the talks or advantages the FARC in mobilizing public support. It will therefore be a good omen if the level of encouragement of participation during the negotiations is sustained upon reaching an agreement.
However, there are challenges to doing so.
The first contentious question is how to incorporate FARC and leftist representatives into mainstream politics. The previous attempt to incorporate the FARC into politics in the 1980s resulted in the assassination of members of the Patriotic Union party by paramilitary groups, making the provision of security guarantees a key issue today. Allowing the FARC into politics is also controversial because some members have been accused of war crimes. With this in mind, questions surrounding amnesty are to be discussed under a future agenda item on ending the conflict.
Second, beyond a FARC political movement, a more fundamental question concerns the participation of the historically excluded rural sector, the interests of which the FARC claims to represent. It is said Colombia’s constitution is so liberal and democratic it is comparable to Switzerland’s, but this has at times been more true on paper than in practice. Without expanding and sustaining political participation, a lasting peace will be elusive, as underdevelopment in the countryside will persist and peasants will remain vulnerable to recruitment by criminal bands or other armed groups.
The experience after The Violence is again instructive. The National Front pact called for the two main political parties to alternate in power and also created mechanisms for participation including village-level community action boards (or juntas comunales), the most common form of social organization in Colombia today. Yet the national level political alternation and instability, along with creeping clientelism and corruption, meant the viewpoints of peasants were coopted and marginalized by politicians.
This exclusion became a rallying cry for spoiler insurgent groups, including the FARC (yes, the same FARC with which the government is negotiating today, some 49 years later). Yet despite the exclusion, I found in my research in the Colombian countryside that these resilient village organizations continued to advocate on behalf of communities, implementing public works and even shielding residents from armed group pressure.
Clearly, the breakthrough on participation rescued the peace talks, and it suggests a model for peace processes in other countries. But this democratic opening alone isn’t enough to cement a peace deal. If Colombia is to achieve peace and also live up to its democratic potential, sustained grassroots participation must remain at the forefront.
By Matt Browne and Dan Restrepo, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dan Restrepo is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former advisor to President Barack Obama on Latin America. Matt Browne heads American Progress’s Global Progress project and is a former advisor to Tony Blair. The views expressed are their own.
Four decades since the military coup that brought Chile a dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, Chile stands poised to enter a new chapter in its history. But obstacles from its past still stand in the way.
On Sunday, the daughters of two generals, friends who found themselves on opposing sides of the coup, will compete for the presidency. Michelle Bachelet, a former president and the daughter of General Alberto Bachelet, who opposed the coup, is running against Evelyn Matthei, the daughter of General Fernando Matthei, who supported the coup and presided over the prison that tortured and killed Bachelet’s father.
Is the scene set for a dramatic show down?
Actually, not really. When Bachelet left office five years ago, she did so with the highest approval ratings of any Chilean politician in history, above 85 percent. Only the Chilean constitution, which prevents sitting presidents from standing for re-election for a consecutive term, removed her from office. Today, polls suggest that almost half the population will vote for Bachelet in the first round. Matthei garners a mere 14 percent of the vote with the remainder being split by smaller independent candidates.
By Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. The views expressed are her own.
Conventional wisdom was that a short papal conclave would result in the election of a front runner. So when I heard that there was white smoke after just five ballots, I prepared for a TV interview by reviewing notes about Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Not visible on camera was a thick packet on my lap containing profiles of other candidates, just in case. Luckily, I had it arranged in alphabetical order, and quickly laid my hands on the rather slender file of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
In Catholic circles, it is relatively rare to witness events without precedent. And yet we have seen so many of them in the space of a month. Close on the heels of Benedict's resignation came the election of an unexpected successor, who, it turns out, had a few more surprises in store for the faithful. In his first public moments as pope, Bergoglio engaged in a little self-deprecating humor, led the people in three of the most unifying prayers of the church, requested a blessing and humbly bowed before them. The most astonishing thing of all was his new name. Bergoglio became the first pontiff in history to adopt as his patron a beloved saint who may be best remembered for his love of animals and the simple life, but who was above all a reformer who called on a flawed institution to repair itself.
By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.
It’s difficult to remember a time when Hugo Chávez didn’t dominate the headlines, just as it is difficult to believe that, with his death, there will come a time when he no longer does. Elected as Venezuelan president in 1998 and sworn in in 1999, Chávez became the voice of a new group of leaders across South America that came to power with the collapse of traditional, elite-dominated party systems. He was the bête noir of the United States, a hero to the anti-globalization left and to the poor in his own country, a savior to the Castro regime in Cuba, and the clown prince of the regional summit circuit. For all this, though, Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela and in the region will be one of institutional debasement and polarization.
The one-time lieutenant colonel rose to prominence in 1992, when he and a group of mid-level officers attempted a coup against the country’s then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. In a brief statement to the media, Chávez promised that while he may have failed, that he would return to correct the social injustices that led to his putsch. After serving time in prison he did, winning the 1998 presidential elections, overturning a two-party system that had governed Venezuela since 1958 through an increasingly closed, corrupt system held together by the country’s oil riches and patronage.
By Eric Farnsworth, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. The views expressed are his own.
Remember the climactic scene in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family fails to appear on stage to receive the top prize even as the band repeatedly introduces their entrance? It’s a little like the spectacle awaiting Venezuelans now that Hugo Chavez has missed his own presidential inauguration under the terms of the recent constitution that he himself instituted.
If he is unable to carry out his duties, Venezuela’s constitution requires another election within 30 days. Recovering from cancer – or not – in Havana, a number of alternatives have been floated by Chavez allies that would allow him to remain as president until such time or scenario as he could be physically sworn-in. Better not cue the band just yet.
By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Sabatini is senior director of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and adjunct professor at Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.
Whether its growth is being hailed as a major advance for Latin America or its alleged decline in the developed world is taken as a sign of the global North’s impending fall, the middle class has assumed almost totemic status in popular discussions. The reality, though, is more complex.
The confusion stems in large part from how we define the middle class.
In the seemingly interminable 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign, the U.S middle class loomed like an endangered species, so much time was spent by the candidates positioning themselves as the savior of the supposedly beleaguered middle class. Lost within the debate was the matter of whether the U.S. middle class was actually shrinking and why – or why not.
By Ravi Agrawal, CNN
Editor’s note: Each day this week, GPS Senior Producer Ravi Agrawal will assess what’s in store for the world in 2013. On Monday, he began with Asia. Today, he takes on Latin America. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter @RaviAgrawalCNN.
Who are the most positive people in the world? Well, at least according to the responses in a recent Gallup poll, eight of the top 10 countries whose citizens feel happiest are in Latin America – Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad&Tobago, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. Such results could in part be down to a cultural predisposition to looking on the bright side. But if Latin Americans have taken a moment to reflect on their financial situation, they will also see tangible reasons to be positive about the future.
While the rest of the world has become more unequal in recent years, Latin America is the only region in the world to reverse that trend. According to a World Bank report, 50 million people joined the region’s middle class between the years of 2003 and 2009. Poverty rates have plummeted; more women are working; safety nets have become stronger.
For more, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
By Global Public Square staff
A few weeks ago, the president told a newspaper the solution to partisanship is politics and more politics. That’s how you work toward the building of agreements.
Unfortunately, it wasn't Barack Obama. It was Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto. As Washington has been mired in gridlock this year, consider what’s happening just across the border. One of the first things Pena Nieto did after assuming office just weeks ago was to announce a pact for Mexico, an ambitious set of reforms to raise taxes, increase competition and take on the teachers’ unions.
Now, it is one thing to announce a plan, quite another to get support for it and President Pena Nieto's pact comes with endorsements from across the spectrum, the conservatives he ousted from office as well as the leftist Democrats.
By Andrew Selee & Christopher Wilson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew Selee is the vice president for programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a senior adviser for the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. Christopher Wilson is an associate for the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are their own.
U.S.-Mexico relations have been dominated for the past six years by efforts to address drug trafficking and organized crime-related violence. This was the right thing to do while violence spiked in Mexico, but with a new administration in office after the swearing in of President Enrique Peña Nieto over the weekend, the time has come to re-balance the bilateral relationship.
Ties tend to have the same top three items on the agenda year after year and administration after administration: immigration; drugs and violence; and trade and economic relations. Drugs and violence have dominated in recent years, and cooperation in addressing the transnational flows of drugs, arms and illicit money, as well as support for Mexico’s efforts to strengthen public security, must continue. Although the gains are still tenuous and the situation fluid, violence in Mexico does appear to have begun to decline at a national level and major advances have been made in key border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.
By Global Public Square
For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
With President Obama’s visit to Asia and war in Gaza, Washington's foreign policy energies have been focused this past week on the Far East and the Middle East. But let’s not forget the surprising developments in a region we share a 2,000 mile border with: Latin America.
I just read a new World Bank report, and it has some important findings. Between the years of 2003 and 2009, nearly 50 million people joined Latin America's middle class – that’s twice the entire population of the state of Texas, and a sixth of America's population as a whole. In those six years, the size of the region’s middle class expanded by 50 percent. The proportion of people in poverty fell sharply, from 44 percent, to 30 percent. And as the rest of the world became more unequal, Latin America was the only region to decrease the gap between rich and poor.