Political Situation in Latin America: March 2014
May-05-14 - by Rosendo Fraga

1. Just as the G7 meets in Europe on June 5, the BRICS will get together in Brasilia in July 15. The presidents of China, India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil will be there. The visit of Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Li, to Latin America is aimed at preparing the visit to the region of his country’s president, Xi Jimping, to attend the Summit of the Brazilian capital city in three months. For the same reasons, the Vice Foreign Affairs Minister of India visited Argentina last week on his way to Brazil. For geographical reasons, a trip from China to Latin America entails effort, and it is reasonable that tours are made. Just as the foreign relations minister of the world’s second power takes a tour starting in Cuba in the Caribbean, the in Venezuela in South America, then Argentina to conclude in Brazil, the Chinese president will make a similar trip in three months time. China is the second trading partner of Cuba after Venezuela and the chances of moving forward in investments with the new openness law is raised. In the case of Venezuela, its first trading partner despite political differences remains the US, which purchases –although increasingly less- the oil the country exports, while China is the leading investor and Russia the leading weapons seller.

2. With Argentina and Brazil, the economic relationship is also relevant but has less significance. While the Asian power is the destination for the raw material exports of the two nations, investments have a relatively lower relevance than in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, but may expand. If the G7 and the BRICS are two groups of countries that represent the developed and emerging world and have different positions in world conflicts, the countries of the Pacific Alliance have a strategic position closer to the former, with whom they have signed several free trade deals, while the countries of Mercosur agree more on the foreign policy with the latter. In perspective, the tour of the Chinese foreign affairs minister, which anticipates the president’s visit seems to be a strategic option by one of the two regional blocs, since he won’t visit any country of the Pacific Alliance, although its foreign trade volume exceeds that of Mercosur. The relationship between this regional group and China also has contradictions and the exports from that country to the region make Argentina, for instance, have a growing trade deficit. The model of exporting raw material and buying cheap manufacturing is not desired by Brazil and Argentina in their relationship to the Asian power. 

3. As for the Soccer World Cup, Brazil is one of the world’s countries where this sport creates more enthusiasm and fervor. Support in this sport is usually stronger than in politics. Besides, the country has tied the presidential election to the Soccer World Cups: always the presidential election is three months after the World Cup. The Constitution since the mid-80s established the four year presidential term and as the World Cup is held every four years, both events have been related for more than a quarter of a century as they coincide in four years and probably this will last for several decades. The presidential election is held on the first Sunday of October, three months after the World Cup, as scheduled for this year. However, the World Cups do not seem to have influenced greatly the electoral outcomes. Neither Cardoso’s two elections had much to do with soccer outcomes nor the three elections won by the PT. Against the odds a year ago, when the Soccer Cup in Brazil seemed like an advantage for government, it has now become a problem and even a disadvantage. When in June last year the protests emerged from the new middle classes on the streets, the construction works for the World Cup were a central point for the claims. 

4. Argentina is a country where soccer matters a lot, although a little less than in Brazil. The two World Cups won by the country had several political effects. In 1978, during the last military rule, it had a favorable political effect, which was closely planned in advance for political benefit. The victory of 1986, under Alfonsin, had a lower political effect instead. Perhaps it was because a democratic government attached a lower political interest to it. Today, for the Argentine government, getting to the World Cup has been raised as a political target so that during the competition –from June 12 to July 13- attention will be focused on the great sports event, placing economic problems such as inflation, growing insecurity and corruptions scandals on a back seat. If this is so, it will have a short-lasting and small impact, according to past experiences. But a good or bad performance of Argentina may impact the “social mood”, although for a short time, given the experience of the victory in 1986. While the World Cup may drive the attention away from critical problems, it will be back where it was. 

5. To conclude:

a) The visit to Latin America of the Foreign Affairs Minister first and of the president of China next, would have not taken place right now if it had not been because the BRICS Summit is held in Brazil in July.

b) But he Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister is more focused on Obama’s tour this week around Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines than on the trip of his own boss across Latin America.

c) The World Cup in Brazil was expected a year ago as an event which would favor government; instead, it has awakened criticism and protests and underscored flaws and limitations.

d) In Argentina, it may create a short-lived truce regarding the pressure generated by critical problems for government, but it won’t solve them, and they’ll be back with the same or stronger push after the sports event.