A Latin American fall – or is it a spring?

The fall semester has started at Norwegian universities, and it will be an intense one for those of us who are interested in Latin American affairs.

Latin America

Latin America is in a period of significant uncertainty and rapidly unfolding events. Massive protests have become a recurrent phenomenon in places as different as Honduras and Brazil; presidential popularity is plummeting in a number of countries with the revelation of corruption scandals and power abuse; and the prospects for economic growth and poverty reduction seem bleak in most countries.  It might be tempting to conclude that this fall will mean the end of what has often been called the “Latin American spring”. However, the situation is far more complex than that. During this fall NorLARNet will seek to contribute to a better understanding of what is going on through a number of events. In this first blog in the new format – and new language – I will present some of them.

Brazil: a never ending crisis?

The first country to be in focus is Brazil. When NorLARnet was established in 2008 Brazil was on its way to the stars. Brazil was considered the land of the future across the globe, and in little Norway that had quite limited previous linkages to Brazil, optimism was limitless. Although some voices among the NGO community, some researchers and businessmen with long experience in Brazil tried to contribute to a reality check, few listened to worries about unresolved issues of corruption, violence, economic inefficiency and destructive political games. In hindsight it appears that some of the euphoria was unwarranted in spite of economic growth and impressive poverty reduction.  Today  President Dilma Rouseff’s popularity is vanishing,  the economy contracts and ever new groups turn against political establishment, including the Workers Party. But what is really the depth of the problems? Is the current feeling of a crisis without solution also exaggerated? We will get some answers to that question in the two day seminar starting on September 1st at NIBR sponsored by NorLARNet. The entry point to discussing Brazil in this seminar is the impact of the mega sports events including FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2015, but the seminar will discuss the situation in Brazil in more general after the mega protests started in 2013 as well as prospects for future democracy and citizen rights with a number of invited experts from Brazil.

Guatemala: finally a spring?

Guatemala’s tourist slogan is “the land of eternal spring” due to its pleasant climate, but politically there have been few grounds for using that metaphor. After the end of the civil war and return of democracy in the late 1990s, Guatemala has gradually descended into a mafia state where politics is increasingly a market place where influence is purchased for money or forged by violence. After 36 years of civil war, and another almost 20 of a rather violent peace, fear prevented many from raising their voice. However, after the International Commission for Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) revealed the existence of a broad corruption ring in the customs offices (La Linea) with support all the way into the government, outrage has exploded. Never before have so many and so varied groups of Guatemalans unitedly taken to the streets as during the last weeks. And never before have such demonstrations occurred peacefully and without brutal military or police intervention.  As further CICIG investigation resulted in the arrest of Vice-President Roxana Baldetti and the possible opening of an investigation (depending on the removal of presidential immunity) against President Otto Perez Molina, popular outrage and pressure against the government have increased. This occurs only a few weeks before general elections are schedule on the 6th of September. NorLARNet organizes a seminar on the 9th of September where we ask what to expect in this highly fluid and uncertain situation.

The US: from a “good enough neighbor” to a powerful lunatic?

One of the first events that NorLARnet organized (in early 2009) was one that looked at the prospects for a new era of hemispheric relations as Obama entered the US presidency. The main message from that lecture was that Obama was a very cautious politician; don’t get your hopes up that he will challenge hard core republicans or the Pentagon over Latin America issues. In spite of recent initiatives such as the détente with Cuba and immigration reform, Obama’s presidential period has been characterized by a Latin America policy being bogged down in internal disputes.  Yet the prospect of a more progressive policy in the future seems bleak. Many Latin Americans view Donald Trump as a potentially powerful lunatic after recent hostile comments about Mexico and Mexicans, but what would really a Hillary Clinton or a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio mean? Joy Olson who is the Executive Director of the human rights advocacy organization Washington Office for Latin America is visiting Norway in September, and we make her give a lunch seminar on the 22st of September on the topic.

Argentina:  the end of an era?

Argentina remains a mystery to most of us. Cristina Fernández de Kirschner is one of the leaders of the new left in Latin America that still remains highly popular months before the presidential elections that will decide her successor take place (on October 25). That is spite of the fact that her legacy is highly controversial and Argentina increasingly is a divided country. With inflation skyrocketing, rampant corruption and clientilism and increasing questioning of the governments’ performance due to manipulation of statistics, strong forces seek to make an end to the Kirschner-period that effectively has lasted since 2003. Yet, as of today’s polls, the elections are up for grabs between Fernández’ chosen successor Daniel Scioli of the Peronist Party (Partido Justicialista) and Mauricio Macri that at present seems to be his main challenger.  As one of the speakers at the  NorLARnet seminar that will be held on October 14th on the Argentinan elections, Andres Malamud, will ask in his presentation, it is definitely not clear whether this will mean the end of a cycle or yet a renewal of Peronism.

Venezuela and lots more

These are not the only hotspots in Latin America at the moment. Venezuela continues to be faced with a political and economic crisis. NorLARnet will give ample attention to the parliamentary elections on the 6th of December. On the 22nd and 23rd of September, a workshop will be held at the University of Stavanger with support from NorLARNet on social work with families, bringing in researchers from Scandinavia and Latin America. We also plan further events on the peace process in Colombia, inequality and several other topics. Moreover, a book edited in the NorLARnet auspices on Norwegian Social Science Perspectives on Latin America will be published in parallel in English and Spanish by CLACSO in Buenos Aires this fall. It will be launched at the large CLACSO conference in Medellin (9-13 of November) but we also hope to make a launch of it here in Norway for all of those interested in a critical introduction to what Norwegian social scientists have researched in the region and why they have done so.

It will not be the only exiting book launch this fall. I have already mentioned some in a recent blog. Among the others that we soon will see appearing is the book Subculturas del narcotráfico en América Latina: Realidades geoeconómicas y geopolíticas y la representación sociocultural de una nueva ética y estética en Colombia, México y Brasil, by Nelson Gonzáles Ortega at the University of Oslo (with other contributions from Norwegian researchers) published  by  Uniandes in Bogota and UNAM  in Mexico, DF.

In Europe it is fall in more than one sense. In Latin America we have crises but also new exciting movements and initiatives to follow closely. If it was ever possible to capture the region’s dynamic in a single narrative, those times are definitely over.  In NorLARNet we will try and make the many complex processes more intelligible and bring in new perspectives. In academia there is definitely no fin de siècle


By Benedicte Bull
Published Aug. 31, 2015 8:07 PM - Last modified May 8, 2017 9:03 AM
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