Since the impeachment of Peru’s President Pedro Castillo on Dec. 7, protesters have been demanding “que se vayan todos,” which roughly translates to “get rid of them all.” But even though Peru’s Congress has now responded to calls for early elections, the anger that fueled the protests cannot be quickly overcome.
Three months after voters rejected a draft constitution, Chilean President Gabriel Boric brokered an agreement with the country’s political forces setting out the process for another try at producing a new basic document. This time, though, guardrails are in place to avoid the radical changes attempted in the first draft.
The dispute over Pedro Castillo’s removal as president in Peru is the latest messy transfer of power in Latin America and another instance when regional governments could not agree on a basic interpretation of events. More broadly, the region’s democracies face two related challenges: creeping authoritarianism and election denial.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele appears to have found a formula to maintain sky-high popularity in a region more accustomed to street protests and leaders nose-diving in the polls. Critics of his “war on gangs” revile him for his autocratic ways. But citizens and leaders across Latin America have looked to him for inspiration.
In March, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency and suspended fundamental rights, giving security forces extended powers to detain and arrest people suspected of gang crimes. Since then, over 58,000 people accused of being gang members have been arrested—and human rights violations have spiked.
Recent developments in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the U.S. and Peru show that the guardrails of democracy can hold in the Americas. Institutions can restrain populist leaders who abuse their authority. Hyper-presidentialism, in which the executive can do whatever it pleases, is not guaranteed. Checks and balances can work.
Recent elections in Brazil and the U.S. may have reinforced the impression that democracy is alive and well in the Americas. But in Guatemala, where in the past few years a backlash against anti-corruption efforts has gathered steam, upcoming elections in 2023 are unlikely to reverse democracy’s downward slide.
Pedro Castillo’s victory in Peru’s 2021 presidential election was a symptom of the country’s political instability. After taking office, however, he went from being a symptom to being a cause of instability. His impeachment and subsequent arrest this week mark a denouement that was as swift and surprising as his initial rise.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s election as Brazilian president has been hailed as a turning point for protecting the Amazon from deforestation, and hence for the world’s struggle against climate change. But while Lula is being anointed as an environmental savior, he faces arduous work before his promises can be fulfilled.
Mexico’s Congress voted yesterday to reject a sweeping reform of its electoral system that triggered massive protests and a counterdemonstration by supporters of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador last month. The episode highlights several features of AMLO’s presidency that will continue to present challenges to Mexico’s democracy.
Whether driven by the desire to secure his legacy, avoid prosecution or stroke his ego, Donald Trump’s reelection bid is a move that will be familiar to observers in Latin America, where ex-presidents often seek a return to office. The lesson from these campaigns is clear: They seldom end well and often undermine democracy.
In the countries where they have gained power, Latin America’s left-leaning leaders have usually won by campaigning on economic and social issues. Now that they are in power, they must deal with the region’s security challenges—and the political fallout for the failures that occur, whether or not they are to blame for them.