In his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez spoke of the conflict and violence plaguing Latin America, including El Salvador’s 12 year civil war and Argentina’s Dirty War. “There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God’s name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time,” he stated in his speech.
Nearly 30 years later, Latin America is much more stable—most countries in the region are democratic, there is high voter turnout in elections, significant advances have been made in technology and innovation, and the region has experienced greater economic growth than before. While “Gabo” would be glad to see the progress in Latin America today, he might have been shocked by the new trend that is taking hold as protests, corruption scandals and political instability are burgeoning across the region, and an emboldened middle class is pushing back.
Every Saturday for nearly two months thousands of protesters have filled the Constitution Square outside Guatemala’s City Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina amid a customs corruption scandal. In Honduras, protesters are calling for President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation after he was accused of accepting illegal funds from the Honduran Social Security Institute to help finance his presidential campaign in 2013. Dissention in both countries is arising from the middle class and is being led by social media and grass roots organizations.
Similarly in Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has fallen to a new low according to a report by Ipsos published Sunday in the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio. The newspaper claimed that several factors are contributing to Humala’s declining approval rating, including the recent allegations of corruption against his wife, Nadine Heredia, over a money-laundering operation. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa also faces low approval rates due largely to his new plans to raise taxes on inheritances and real estate profits, spurring nationwide protests.
What ties these countries together is the overarching citizen frustration with their countries’ stagnant economies, government corruption and lack of transparency leading to widespread protests. Claudio Loser, a former head of the Western Hemisphere department at the International Monetary Fund credits this pattern of protests to the growth of Latin America’s middle class, which has raised citizens’ expectations of their leaders. He told Bloomberg Business, “the rule of law has turned into a more important issue and at the same time an emerging and rising middle class is less tolerant” of illegal behavior. During this delicate time in Latin America, all eyes turn to political leaders as they address the problems that are compelling thousands of protesters to take to the streets.
The protests in Latin America exemplify that the “consciousness of citizen power has expanded,” Edgar Gutiérrez, who heads a research institute at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, told the New York Times. If people do not demand change, “the politicians will never do it, nor will the economic elites,” he added. If only we knew what “Gabo” would say about his region’s current situation if he were still alive today.