What to expect in Latin America in 2014

This year in Latin America began with the tragedy of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the man whose vision and decisiveness did so much to break the century old pattern of U.S. domination of most of the hemisphere. It is ending with the tremendous victory, on Sunday December 15, of socialist Michelle Bachelet in the runoff election for president of Chile. Bachelet beat right-wing candidate Evelyn Matthei by a stunning 62 percent to 38 percent. She is expected to govern more from the left this time around, with the support of the Communist Party and the presence in the legislature of fresh new faces on the left.

The Bolivarian dynamic, the movement of regional integration within Latin America and the Caribbean and progressive distancing of the nations of the area from U.S. corporate and government domination, marches on.

What can we expect in 2014?

In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) will continue his neo-liberal policies of free trade, privatization and austerity. He just won a vote in both houses of Congress to go forward with a program of bringing more and more private, corporate interests into the running (and profiting from) Mexico's huge petroleum industry. This will reduce the degree to which petroleum sales underwrite government social programs. Peña proposes raising taxes on the population to make up the difference. There will be protests about this, about the implementation of the government's educational reform, and other things. Meanwhile the expansion of narcotics trafficking and the ordeal of immigrants from Mexico, or passing through Mexico from Central America, and running the gauntlet of attacks by bandits and corrupt officials and police, will continue.

In Guatemala, the fate of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt is hanging in the air. He had been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity earlier this year, crimes in which the U.S. government, especially under Ronald Reagan, was fully complicit. However, a higher court, basing itself on technicalities, threw the verdict out. Theoretically, Rios Montt should face trial again, but there are powerful forces, in Guatemala and here, which will try to prevent this.

In Honduras, right-wing candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez just "won" a joke of an election against the left-leaning LIBRE Party's Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of the overthrown former President Manuel Zelaya. The United States has signed off on the results, but they will still be protested. LIBRE has established itself as the second most powerful electoral force in the country, and protests and struggle will continue on many fronts.

Now come presidential elections in El Salvador on February 2, to replace the center-left president, Mauricio Funes. The latest polls show the candidate of the left-wing Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), Salvador Sanchez Ceran ahead in the first round, but there will be a runoff on March 9 probably against the right-wing ARENA Party's candidate Norman Quijano. The issue of personal security is causing confusion and bolstering the right. The invasion by Mexican drug cartels is the cause of the increased violence, and cannot be solved one country at a time. The U.S. Ambassador has been vocally partisan.

In Venezuela the left-wing president, Nicolas Maduro must continue to deal with problems of inflation, scarcity of some consumer goods as well as security issues. Corporate media in the United States continue to demonize the Venezuelan government, ignoring its triumphs like the reduction of poverty by 50 percent.

In Colombia, the peace process between the government of President Manuel Santos and the FARC will continue, but there will be major efforts to disrupt it coming from ultra-rightist elements around ex-president Alvaro Uribe. Legislative elections are on March 9 and the presidential election on May 25 (with a runoff on June 15). The fight to free political prisoners continues.

There is a presidential election in Brazil in October. Although it is probable that center-left President Dilma Rousseff will be reelected, her popularity suffered somewhat from protests in several cities earlier this year.

On the island of Hispaniola, growing hostility between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is a cause for worry. The immediate issue is the mistreatment of Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic; the wider context is the extreme poverty of both countries and their inability to break away from foreign domination. There are legislative elections in the Dominican Republic in May.

There will also be elections in Uruguay in October and November, in Bolivia in December, and in Panama in May. In the first two, the left-center governments will probably be re-elected. In Panama, we will see how the leftist "Broad Front for Democracy" does. Juan Carlos Navarro of the centrist PRD (Popular Democratic Party) leads in poles.

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