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LatAm in Focus: From Elections to Trade, Latin America's Big 2018 Stories

A voter in Chihuahua, Mexico. (AP)

A voter in Mexico. (AP)

January 11, 2018

If 2017 was the year that changed the US, 2018 could redefine Latin America. Our latest #LatAmFocus podcast zeroes in on what to watch in the coming year:
“The big question is: Will corruption be the number one issue?” asks @BrazilBrian in @ASCOA's #LatAmFocus podcast. A look ahead at the 2018 Latin America election marathon:
In the first #LatAmFocus podcast of 2018 @ericfarns spells out how U.S. protectionism is leading to major geostrategic shifts.

If 2017 was the year that changed the United States, 2018 could be the year that changes Latin America. A wave of elections will wash across the region, with voters from Mexico to Brazil choosing between the status quo and a rising tide of outsiders. All of this takes place as the United States looks increasingly inward, sparking questions about NAFTA’s fate and China’s global role.

“Trade will be a headline issue in 2018.”
—Eric Farnsworth

AS/COA Online’s Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis hosts our first episode of the year, exploring the election cycle, as well as Latin America’s place in an evolving global trade landscape. The podcast also looks at what’s in store for Venezuela; AS/COA Venezuela Working Group head Guillermo Zubillaga talks with Holly Sonneland about how the Maduro government is addicted to power and needs an intervention in 2018.

Starting with Latin America’s packed electoral calendar, Americas Quarterly’s Brian Winter tells AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme, “The big question for these elections is: Will corruption be the number one issue?” Winter adds that, if corruption dominates voters’ concerns, outsiders and populists stand a greater chance of winning. “The same people who are dismissing outsiders now are the same ones who spent up until 8 p.m. on November 8, 2016, saying that a Donald Trump victory was impossible.”

The AQ editor-in-chief previews the magazine’s upcoming election issue and dives deeper into Brazil’s electoral landscape. He explains why ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva now counts as an antiestablishment candidate and how social media makes ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro a “slam dunk” to appear in Brazil’s likely presidential runoff on October 28.

“There are few institutions that are less respected in the world right now than political parties.”
—Brian Winter

Meanwhile, Mexico is gearing up for its own highly contentious race, meaning there’s not a lot of time to finish up NAFTA renegotiations beforehand. Eric Farnsworth, who heads Council of the Americas’ Washington office, covers not only the prospects for the next round of talks in Montreal at the end of January, but also how tensions between NAFTA members connects with fears over Russian hacking of the Mexican election. “Russian hacking can’t really create things that don’t previously exist, but it can…build on divisions if they do exist,” he says.

“The time has come for external pressure.”
—Guillermo Zubillaga on Venezuela

Looking beyond North America, Farnsworth spells out why the United States’ protectionist streak is leading to major geostrategic shifts. “Latin America is becoming a region now that is open for business,” he says. “The Chinese have seen it, the Japanese have seen it, others have seen it. Ironically, it’s the United States that may be looking to ourselves instead of the region at this period of time.”

Luisa Leme produced this podcast episode. Text by Carin Zissis.