Latin America's leftward lurch has ended. Next year begins with new leaders in Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Brazil from all ideologies with fresh mandates. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female head of state, will take over from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As several nations celebrated 200 years of independence from Spain, democracy is thriving.
There are, however, exceptions. Haiti's elections on Nov. 28 were marred by allegations of fraud. In a moment of uncertainty and turmoil, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa faced an alleged coup. Argentines, Nicaraguans, Peruvians, and Guatemalans head to the polls in 2011. It remains to be seen if Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will run again. Her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, who died in October, was poised to retake the office.
November promises an exciting race in Nicaragua, as President Daniel Ortega seeks a second consecutive term. Critics say he has fraudulently overridden legal obstacles that would have kept him from another term. The stage is set for a contentious contest.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez's party lost more than one-third of its parliamentary seats in September legislative elections. When the new legislature sits in January, his more than 10-year grip on power could be challenged. Critics worry that he will attempt to assert more control from a weakened position, especially ahead of 2012 presidential elections. In fact, before the outgoing parliament left, it passed several initiatives strengthening Chávez's power, including the power to rule by decree.
Mexico has scored a string of high-profile captures in its brutal drug war. Will that reduce violence in 2011? It's too early to tell, but Mexicans are desperate for relief. Some 30,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderón brought the military and federal police to the drug fight. The arrests could push trafficking elsewhere in Central America.
Latin America will continue to assert its independence from the United States as its economies rise. The region is expected to grow by 4.2 percent in 2011, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) based in Santiago, Chile. That's slower than the 6 percent growth estimated for 2010, but still ahead of most developed countries, including the US (see story, p. 14). Latin America is looking to new partners for trade and development, particularly China. A flurry of deals, bilateral visits, and new projects are expected in 2011.
Growth is uneven, of course, with Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil growing at a rapid clip. That's mostly thanks to commodities exports. Earthquake-ravaged Haiti, however, slipped by 7 percent and Venezuela by 1.6 percent.
Brazil will probably remain the economic star. Its security situation may flare (criminals set off a series of fires around Rio de Janeiro in November) but the economy will boom. The middle class is growing, new jobs are emerging, and preparations are under way for hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
– Sara Miller Llana, Mexico City bureau chief