Publication: Strategic Survey 2017: The Annual Assessment of Geopolitics
06 September 2017
On the night of 2 October 2016, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his administration received the shock results of a national referendum on a peace accord with FARC. Having begun in secret in Havana years earlier, the process that led to the plebiscite was designed to end Colombia’s 52-year conflict with the rebel group. Santos had thrown his entire political weight behind the accord, and with its signing won praise around the world. He was already the clear favourite to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In the weeks before the vote, most polls indicated that the ‘Yes’ campaign would win by a small but comfortable margin. But instead the ‘No’ campaign – capitalising on widespread mistrust of FARC and discontent with Santos – won by less than half a percentage point. Although the government quickly renegotiated controversial parts of the deal and went through congress to approve it (while Santos still received the Nobel Prize), the result caused considerable damage to the peace process and Colombia’s already fractured politics.
This sense of disappointment – with politics and politicians, unachieved promises and obstacles to progress – was common in Latin America, and indeed the rest of the world, in the year to mid-2017. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States dealt a major blow to the strategies and ambitions of many countries in the region, not least Mexico.
Meanwhile, longer-term challenges remained unresolved. Latin American countries accounted for nine of the ten highest homicide rates in the world. In 2016 Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras and Jamaica all registered murder rates of more than 50 per 100,000 people, according to either their public-security authorities or civil-society organisations. Drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime continued to threaten the rule of law and public security in almost every country in the region. The political and economic crisis in Venezuela, in which protesters clashed with an increasingly authoritarian government, grew more severe and lacked any clear path to resolution. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached amid a severe economic crisis and one of the largest corruption scandals in modern history. In most other Latin America countries, cases of graft – both related and unrelated to Brazil – further undermined trust in the government. The region’s economies showed no sign of returning to the prosperity of the 2003–13 commodity boom.