Latin America’s Political Fault Lines Are Shifting

Latin America’s Political Fault Lines Are Shifting
Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa speaks during an event with youths in El Quinche, Ecuador, April 8, 2024 (AP photo by Dolores Ochoa).

Last week, the New Yorker published a long essay by Jon Lee Anderson that was ostensibly about Ecuador’s war against organized crime. However, the parts that caught everyone’s attention were President Daniel Noboa’s on-the-record and undiplomatic comments about other Latin American leaders. Aside from their inflammatory potential, those comments may foreshadow the direction that ideological debates take in Latin American politics over the coming decade.

In Noboa’s eyes, Colombian President Gustavo Petro is a “snob” who isn’t getting anything done. Argentine President Javier Milei is “full of himself,” which Noboa characterized as being “very Argentine.” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s security strategy of “hugs not bullets” has failed, strengthening drug cartels in ways that have directly harmed Ecuador’s security. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is undemocratic, undermining the country’s checks and balances in his so-called war against its gangs, but also corrupt, enriching his family as he governs. Noboa was less caustic about Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who he said “seems all right,” before adding that he was too politically weak to escape the problems his leftist political coalition is causing him.

Amid the critiques of his neighboring counterparts, the one foreign leader Noboa praised was Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Noboa, who first met Lula years ago at a business conference, was impressed by “his political savvy and his ability to push through an agenda.” Noboa’s comments reflect a conventional wisdom among Latin America’s center-left, which portrays Lula’s first two terms in office from 2002 to 2010 as a success story, thanks to policies that lifted millions out of poverty while also maintaining a positive business environment.

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