The Smoldering Hot Spots of Latin American Political Instability

Jan 3, 2018 | 09:00 GMT

In Honduras, supporters of the opposition coalition, whose candidate narrowly lost the presidential election in December, set up a roadblock in Tegucigalpa.

Supporters of presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla set up barricades to protest the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa on Dec. 22, 2017. The election was marred by widespread claims of voter fraud.



  • Transitions of political power in Latin America have become generally peaceful over the past three decades. But in Bolivia, Cuba, and Honduras — where deeply entrenched governments will dispute control against political challengers — domestic politics will become more unstable over the coming years.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales' weakening hold over domestic politics will be the main driver of instability in that country in coming years.
  • In Cuba, the eventual lifting of the U.S. economic embargo will bring with it more money, leaving political leaders to jockey for influence and greater access to revenue from trade and tourism.
  • In Honduras, political unrest will persist over the next few years as the country's opposition tries to resist unpopular government moves.

For about three decades, peaceful transitions of political power have been the norm in Latin America, a marked turn from the pattern of military overthrows that peppered the region's history for much of the 20th century. At the height of the Cold War, populist governments, which often had seized power by force, inspired reactionary backlash from conservative political forces -- often with the backing of the United States, which was focused on countering the spread of communism. But since the 1980s, countries in Central and South America discarded military rule in favor of regular, democratic elections. The shift toward democracy for the most part reduced the short-term political instability brought on by unplanned changes of government. Stronger democratic institutions generally allowed for smoother legal transitions of power -- even in contested cases such as Brazil's 2016 presidential impeachment. But widespread democratic rule did not eliminate the threat of periodic instability. Unstable...

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