Some political analysts have named 2019 as the “Latin American Spring” because of the high number of demonstrations and social unrest that have affected the region particularly during the second half of the year. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras and Peru were the countries most affected by the protests, some of which have yet to end. In some countries, there remains a tense calm that might suddenly reignite.
Perhaps the most serious issue was in Chile. On 6 October, in Santiago there was a large hike in prices for public transport, which started a student movement that grew day by day. This led to a confrontation with the local police, looting of shops and subway stations. The result was that the police declared a curfew, and the economic losses are estimated at USD 3,300 million and the loss ratio, particularly in fire and earthquake policies, increased by 20% compared to 2018.
Ecuador was the second most affected country in monetary terms. The protests caused by the sudden elimination of oil subsidies left economic losses of USD 820 million. In other countries the figures were lower but still relevant: Bolivia - USD 167 million; Colombia – USD 100 million, Haiti – USD 40 million.
What is the outlook for 2020?
First, it is important to identify the main causes of the social unrest in the region: inequality, the crisis of the retirement/pension system, national claims for better and wider coverage of public education and state fiscal instability. All of which will not be solved in the short term.
Except for Bolivia, the “Latin American Spring” has not been used by any leader of the opposition to strengthen their position towards the next elections. Hence, the governments have limited their actions to moderate adjustments to their policies when the protests are a big enough worry. Those small adjustments might help to ease the popular claims and the situation will hopefully stabilise in the region during 2020, even though structural problems will continue and will arise again in the future.