If you have been following your newsfeed over the past year, you might be forgiven for believing that Latin America is a wreck. Venezuela has descended into a socialist nightmare. Zika spreads across Central America and South America. Cartel violence ravages Mexico. To the casual observer, it must seem like things couldn’t get any worse.
If you look past the headlines and into the data, the surprising truth emerges: in many respects, times have never been better for Latin America. Since the early 1990s, many of the civil wars and internal conflicts that plagued the region for decades have come to a close. Unprecedented peace has developed alongside a growing interest in economic liberalization: reforms in countries like Peru, Colombia, and Panama have pulled millions of Latin Americans out of poverty. A new trade bloc stretching from Chile to Mexico—the Pacific Alliance—has united much of the region in the pursuit of free trade and free movement. Where functioning democracies were once a rare sight in the region, stable democracies and strong civil liberties are increasingly the norm in Latin America.
All should come as great news for Americans. Aside from the obvious intrinsic benefits of poverty reduction and the spread of democracy, a prosperous and free hemisphere is good for Americans of all varieties. In the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors, here are three things the United States can do to empower these positive trends.
Today’s Young Voices Podcast features Young Voices Executive Director Casey Given and Advocate Jerrod Laber discussing how popular culture should be celebrated because it is a reflection of individual values and preferences.
Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa is probably my favorite living novelist. His work is heart-wrenching and vivid, a celebration of the power of the individual — an island of true liberalism in the sea of Marxism that makes up modern literary fiction in Latin America.
So, I was disheartened to read his most recent collection of nonfiction, Notes on the Death of Culture. In it, he decries what he sees as a devolution of modern culture from classical forms of art, to a “civilization of the spectacle.” While I make no attempt to normatively evaluate the two stacked against one another, I do think there is a lot to celebrate in this “spectacle,” as he calls it.
Replacing Substance with Entertainment?
Vargas Llosa’s spectacle can basically be defined as modern forms of entertainment and mass media, and the values underlying most people’s consumption of those mediums. Having “a good time, escaping boredom” has become the “universal passion,” has led culture down the path to banality and frivolity, and has given rise to tabloid-style journalism.
The two most important factors in these developments are the post-WWII economic gains experienced by the West and certain Asian economies, and the further democratization of culture, in which literature and the arts are no longer only the domain of the elites. Now, everyone gets a seat at the cultural table which, he contends, has caused a “cheapening and trivializing” effect that has downgraded the content of our cultural consumption, to the extent that “a Verdi opera, the philosophy of Kant, a concert by the Rolling Stones, and a performance by Cirque du Soleil have equal value.”
On Tuesday, February 16 the governments of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, and Venezuela agreed to freeze their oil production at “near record” levels. If the deal holds, this will mean that the price of oil will continue its current downward trend for the foreseeable future.
It is also a signal that low prices won’t rebound any time soon. This can have serious political implications, even if its value is muted by the fact that production has been flat in these countries.
Simply put, if oil does not recover, many countries will face serious financial hardship. At current prices, no OPEC country could balance their budget. The Saudi government has cut politically popular subsidies and considered an initial public offering for shares in its state oil company, Aramco.
This week, Venezuela’s opposition won more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, giving them the power to change the politics of the socialist country. This landslide victory presents the biggest threat to Hugo Chavez’s legacy in over 17 years. The result has the potential to impact the politics of Venezuela, and the region as a whole.
But this victory does not mean the end of President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, nor the revolutionary ideals it’s based on.
In Sunday’s election, Venezuela’s opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), won 112 of the 167 seats in the legislature. Maduro’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), won only 55. The opposition’s overwhelming majority will give them the power needed to release political prisoners, fire ministers, reshape the judiciary branch, change the constitution, and even start a process to recall the president.
Venezuelans are want a change from the socialist policies that have created the country’s triple-digit inflation, recession, chronic food shortages, and a rise in violence.As a recent Pew research poll shows, 85 percent of Venezuelans are dissatisfied with how the country has been managed. The strength of this feeling was clearly reflected in the fact that the elections boasted a 74 percent voter participation rate—the highest for a National Assembly election since the 1990s.
Despite this victory, the situation in Venezuela is still far from ideal. And we don’t yet know what the results of the election mean for the future of the currently socialist country.