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Power Shifts, Chile Protests And Peru Election Mark Wild Year In Latin America

Massive protests, economic worries and Mother Nature made 2011 a particularly turbulent year. Latin America was hardly exempt. Hugo Chávez came down with cancer. Dilma Rousseff took on government corruption. And in Mexico, a bloody drug war killed thousan

New Peruvian President Ollanta Humala (left) with Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff
New Peruvian President Ollanta Humala (left) with Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff


SANTIAGOThis was supposed to a be a lucky year, at least according to the Chinese Zodiac. But 2011 – the year of the Rabbit – turned out instead to be one for the dogs as far as the world's politicians, world leaders, bankers and investors were concerned.

For Latin America, 2011 was filled with chaos and uncertainty, leaving many leaders spellbound as to how the economic crisis playing out in Europe and the United States will affect their strapping but still fragile economies.

This past year, the tectonic plates in the Pacific – the so-called Ring of Fire -- once again became unsettled, causing a devastating tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima reactors and reminded everyone just how important it is to treat nuclear energy with caution. But despite tsunamis and varying cultures, languages and production systems, the Pacific Rim is the part of the world where free trade has the best chance of prospering over the coming decade.

On this side of the great ocean, Chile and Peru ended the year heading in seemingly opposite directions. The Chilean peso sank while the Peruvian sol increased in value. Chile's conservative president, Sebastián Piñera, saw his once-soaring popularity take a nosedive amidst months of massive student demonstrations. In the meantime, his Peruvian counterpart, the nationalist Ollanta Humala, surpassed all expectations. Humala began his five-year term with the pledge both to maintain the pace of his country's barreling economy and more evenly distribute the country's resources.

In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff is at the helm of a huge vessel filled with frenzied and fearful passengers. The ongoing fight against government corruption and her fiscal and monetary policies have opened the door for an economic slowdown. This change of pace can affect a good part of Latin America, especially Argentina, whose automotive industry is dependant on Brazilian pocketbooks.

For the first time in Venezuela, the future of the Bolivarian Revolution is under threat. Hugo Chávez is seriously ill -- at death's doors, according to his enemies. His illness has turned Venezuela into a tinder box ready to ignite unless a united, moderate and realistic opposition can decipher what Venezuelans really want.

This scenario is already being anticipated with appeasement gestures by the governments of Ecuador and Nicaragua, which are striving to rebuild their relations with Washington. The question now is whether Bolivian President Evo Morales, who has already disappointed his own party base with rising food prices, will do the same.

Will Mexico's PRI strike back?

Even if Chávez's problems with cancer turn out to be exaggerated, there's a chance he will lose the presidency next year to the opposition. There's an even greater possibility of an opposition takeover in Mexico, where the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – which had governed for nearly 70 years before it was defeated by Vicente Fox and the current ruling National Action Party (PAN) in 2000 – is making a robust comeback. What's not clear is if a PRI government would fare any better than the current administration of President Felipe Calderón when it comes to Mexico's drug wars, which have already claimed more than 10,000 lives.

In Central America the situation is even worse. The unsuccessful attempt by Guatemala's first lady to win the presidency through a sham divorce from President Álvaro Colom was just a relatively minor example of how the region's governing institutions are challenged. Perhaps the biggest threat comes from the region's epidemic of violent crime and drug trafficking. With little actual help from the United States – the real anti-drug sheriff in the region – the narco bosses have their tentacles extended throughout Central America.

One of the biggest paradoxes of the year has been that, despite the political impasse in Washington, there was a high demand for U.S. Treasury bonds and the dollar rose. Latin America's most important currencies, on the other hand, lost value toward the end of the year. The only exceptions were Paraguay's guaraní and the currencies of the long suffering Central American nations. Perhaps these were just market quirks?

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

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The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Western governments will not be oblivious to the growing right-wing activism among the diaspora and the efforts of the BJP and Narendra Modi's government to harness that energy for political support and stave off criticism of India.

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sept. 9

Sushil Aaron


NEW DELHICanadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought Narendra Modi’s exuberant post-G20 atmospherics to a halt by alleging in parliament that agents of the Indian government were involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national, in June this year.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. The Canadian foreign ministry subsequently expelled an Indian diplomat, who was identified as the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, in Canada. [On Thursday, India retaliated through its visa processing center in Canada, which suspended services until further notice over “operational reasons.”]

Trudeau’s announcement was immediately picked up by the international media and generated quite a ripple across social media. This is big because the Canadians have accused the Indian government – not any private vigilante group or organisation – of murder in a foreign land.

Trudeau and Canadian state services seem to have taken this as seriously as the UK did when the Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko was killed, allegedly on orders of the Kremlin. It is extraordinarily rare for a Western democracy to expel a diplomat from another democracy on these grounds.

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