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BNamericas: Brian Winter on Unrest in Latin America

Protestors in Chile (AP)

(AP)

November 15, 2019

Brian Winter, policy vice president at AS/COA, spoke to the BNamericas podcast about causes, similarities, and differences among the protests in various Latin American countries.

"All of these crises that we’re seeing have their individual causes and triggers, but I really do think that this economic slowdown that we’ve seen in the last couple of years is the common thread," Winter said.

Winter said the lack of economic growth in Latin America, with noticeable differences in wages and quality of life than during the commodities boom, is the common thread when examining the frustration and protests in some of the region’s countries. He explained that the role of the military in some Latin American countries is another common thread for the crises, giving examples of leaders who have recently appeared in public surrounded by armed forces: Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno, Chile's President Sebastián Piñera, and Bolivia's self-declared interim president, Jeanine Añez Chávez. Winter said that in Latin America, people believe strong leaders are the way change happens.

"I think we learned the hard way, in the 20th century, what can happen when you have authoritarian governments—all the abuses and the millions of people who died as a result of those kinds of regimes—led us to become more committed in the Western world to democracy," he said.

When asked if Alberto Fernández’s election win in Argentina helped diffuse the situation in the country, Winter replied that the election in Argentina served as an escape valve for the pressure that had been building in the country. He also spoke about Evo Morales’ resignation as president of Bolivia, saying that you can both recognize Morales’ contributions to reducing poverty and empowering indigenous people, while acknowledging that he overreached by pushing for a fourth term and engineering an election that was marred by fraud.

"My fear is that we’ve gone back to the battle days of coups and protests and instability, and that we’re getting away from what we know is the best system that human beings have yet invented, which is strong institutional democracy with regular elections whose results are respected every whatever it is: four years, five years,” Winter said.

"I think all of these things play a role and the takeaway could be that we’re returning to a period that I never personally lived through, which was this period where uprisings and coups and civil unrest were the rule of the day."