Suddenly, South America Seethes With Unrest

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CN) — With political unrest in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, virtually the entire continent of South America is in the throes of drama unseen for a generation.

Soldiers patrol the streets of Valparaiso, Chile, on Thursday as protests mounted across the country, with at least 18 deaths reported. (AP photo/Matias Delacroix)

Latin America has always been a collection of countries with vastly different political situations. Sometimes the right is ascendant, sometimes the left and sometimes the centrists, often at the same time in different places.

But the recent insurrection in Ecuador was perhaps the most shocking in this month’s continent-wide unrest — until the even more shocking rebellion in Chile, one of the most prosperous nations in South America.

Ecuadoran President Lenín Moreno set off weeks of unrest by announcing an end to fuel subsidies that would have dramatically increased the cost of moving their agriculture to markets for the indigenous farmers who are the vast majority of the country. Moreno declared his austerity program to qualify for a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The result was a nationwide general strike that forced the regime to back down and restore the fuel subsidies.

Perhaps inspired by these events, Chileans this week rose up in a general strike that paralyzed the country and is planned to continue through Friday.

Elections on Sunday in Uruguay and Argentina are not expected to result in disorder, as the left is expected to win in both presidential races unless there is widespread fraud.

A police officer pepper sprays a protester in Santiago, Chile, on Thursday. The protest sign states: “You declared war on your own people, your own blood.” (AP photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In Bolivia last Sunday, elections brought a first-round victory to Evo Morales, the center-left president who has been in power since 2006. Post-election protests brought the capital La Paz and the major city Sucre to a standstill.

Things are no better in Central America.

In April 2018 Nicaragua suddenly exploded with nationwide insurrectional activity after the government of President Daniel Ortega announced a reduction in pension payments as part of an austerity program that nearly brought down his government.

In Honduras, taunts of “narco presidente” increased this month after Juan Antonio Hernández, the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández, was convicted of drug trafficking in New York. Honduras is riddled with gang violence, with murder rates in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and the major city San Pedro Sula among the highest in the world.

The right in Guatemala was able to remain in power in the August presidential election by depriving the two liberal candidates of a place on the ballot for what many saw as spurious peccadilloes.

Violence and corruption in Honduras and Guatemala have forced tens of thousands of citizens into a long, usually fruitless, trek to the United States, where they are locked up in immigration prisons or forced back to Mexico.

In El Salvador, a mass movement drove the traditional parties from power in elections in February. New President Nayib Bukele is wildly popular for sending in the army to clear cities of violent gangs, regaining control of the prisons from the drug lords and gangsters who ran them, and firing dozens of corrupt officeholders from the country’s major parties, the right-wing Arena party and the nominally leftist, but equally corrupt FMLN.

As the entire continent, and more, seethes with unrest, it’s unexpected indeed that the region’s smallest nation, and once the most violent, El Salvador, is providing a rare beacon of hope.

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