Economic And Democratic Hopes Fuel Protests In Latin America

Latin America

NPR’s Noel King talks to former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda about the resignation of Bolivia’s president and the recent wave of protests in Latin America.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Bolivia’s ex-president, Evo Morales, got on a plane to Mexico last night. The Mexican government offered him political asylum. Morales resigned on Sunday. Reports said his election to the presidency had been rigged. People went out into the streets, and then the military intervened. Morales was part of a group of leftist leaders that have shaped Latin American politics in recent years. But it’s a group whose future is looking more and more uncertain. Jorge Castaneda is on the line from Mexico. He was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003. He’s now a professor at NYU. Good morning, sir.

JORGE CASTANEDA: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So we have seen so much political uncertainty lately in South and Central America – Chile, Argentina, Venezuela – uncertainty of different stripes, to be sure. In Chile, people are in the streets; in Argentina, they are not. But Evo Morales does appear to be part of some kind of trend that is going on in this part of the world. Is he, and what is the trend?

CASTANEDA: Well, there are two trends, actually, Noel. The first is that there’s an anti-incumbency frustration in much of Latin America, sort of throw the bums out…

KING: OK.

CASTANEDA: …Whoever the bums may be. Some of them may be on the left, like Evo Morales. To a large extent in Venezuela, people are – have been demonstrating for two years now to get rid of Nicolas Maduro. Sometimes they can be on the right. Throw the bums out in Mexico, which they did electing Lopez Obrador last year or now electing Alberto Fernandez in Argentina and throwing the pro-business mockery out. There is this anti-incumbency throw whoever is in power out because we’re not happy. We’re frustrated. We’re resentful. Why? Well, partly because the success of many of these governments of the left over the last 20 years in Latin America – left and center – have created a much larger middle class…

KING: OK.

CASTANEDA: …Which has achieved a certain consumer status. They can – they have a car. They have a home. They have cellphones. They have refrigerators, kitchen, the works – what the American middle class obtained in the 1950s. But they don’t have the public services that they believe must accompany this moving into the middle class. They have terrible health care, terrible pensions, low wages, terrible or very expensive higher education. So then you see people marching in the streets in Chile over a tiny increase in transport and subway fare.

KING: Right. It was a small thing. It was basically, like, adding 50 cents to, you know, a subway – or five cents to a subway ride in New York City, for example. And millions of people went out in the street over that.

CASTANEDA: And they’re continuing to do so, in Chile at least. The reason is that they didn’t really go out because of the subway fare increase. They went out because they feel they are now entitled – and they’re right – to the same type of public services that people have in countries that are about their level of wealth. And they don’t have that. They don’t have any. They think their health care is terrible. They think their pensions are too low. The students who are in higher – in college have an enormous debt. All of this, by the way, Noel, sounds a lot like the United States.

KING: Yes, it does.

CASTANEDA: Sound a lot – what a lot of people in the United States are also clamoring for.

KING: Except in the United States – and people have pointed this out – we have not gone out into the streets. We have about 10 seconds for you to answer this last question, and I know that’s tough. But can new leaders give these people what they want, new elections?

CASTANEDA: They can’t give them that much because the leeway for doing different things in Latin America is not that great.

KING: I wish we could talk more about that. Jorge Castaneda, professor at NYU, thanks so much.

CASTANEDA: Thank you.

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