No Arab Spring in Latin America

Latin America was once named the “seething continent” (continente en erupción). Current events, including the dissolution of parliament and dual power in Peru, the on-going confrontation between the government and parliament in Venezuela, as well as mass protests and the state of emergency in Ecuador, make us wonder if we are not on the verge of a new “Spring”; not an Arab one, but a Latin American one.

The similarity seems illusory. First, Latin America is extremely diverse, and tensions that have struck a number of countries are in no way connected (or are only distantly connected) with each other. There is little in common with the much more homogeneous Arab East. And the Peruvian crisis, the crisis in Ecuador, and the comparatively older situation in Venezuela are all different in terms of their driving forces; the motives of the participants are different, they pursue different goals.

We cannot rule out the fall of Lenin Moreno’s government in Ecuador: the indigenous peoples’ movements over the past few decades have forced two heads of state to leave the presidency ahead of schedule. But the Peruvian head of state is likely to keep his post. And the Venezuelan crisis in general at this stage is more dependent on external actors. So the domino theory, in this case, cannot be applied. The only problematic region is Central America, especially Honduras and Nicaragua, where the indicators of distrust among the population are high and the habit of solving problems on the streets has not disappeared.

Latin America today is completely different; dictatorial regimes and military governments, generally, have become a thing of the past. Alas, one cannot say that local democratic models fully live up to Western European standards. But even in their existing form, they perfectly channel the public discontent and provide for a significant degree of political communication between the elites and ordinary citizens. This wasn’t the case in the countries which witnessed an “Arab spring”. Latin Americans will resolve problems in general within the framework of existing political systems, when the pendulum of political life brings different political forces to power. So, in Argentina at the end of October, the centre-right cabinet will likely give way to the moderate left and centrists, and in neighbouring Uruguay it will be very difficult for the ruling left to retain power, and the country is likely to move to the right. Bolivian President Evo Morales is likely to be re-elected and preserve the country’s “Bolivarian development” vector.

Given these possible political changes, Russia can’t help but ask: how will this affect Moscow’s interests? Honestly speaking, there are no special reasons for concern. In Argentina, Russia’s economic presence and trade have not been affected by the shift of the political leadership to the right, which happened several years ago. The same can be said about Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff was impeached and replaced by the right-leaning cabinet of Michel Temer, and in 2018 the even more hard-line right-winger Jair Bolsonaro, putting an end to the left’s attempt to return to power. This did not concern relations with Russia. Both Argentines and Brazilians are quite pragmatic, when they see economic benefits, they will receive them without scrutinizing the nationality of an export partner. As for Uruguay and Ecuador, Moscow can also feel calm. Uruguayan-Russian relations and Ecuadorian-Russian relations are not grounded in ideology; they are developing within the framework of a market model. Therefore, domestic political troubles in these countries do not affect Russia directly. We have points of coincidence and divergence with them on foreign policy issues, but sharp reversals cannot be expected. Venezuela, however, is a separate issue. In the event of large-scale political changes in Caracas, Moscow is highly likely to lose its key ally in the region. But Russia is clearly determined to prevent this.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.