The case of Brazil and Mexico, the first symptoms of globalization’s weakening in Latin America?

The case of Brazil and Mexico, the first symptoms of globalization’s weakening in Latin America?

All Ibero-American countries (from Mexico to Argentina) have been experiencing economic stagnation or, in the best case, slow growth for decades, alongside massive systematic corruption, insecurity, a decrease in GDP per capita, a continuous dependence on debt contracts, as well as educational stagnation. Corruption is indifferent to ideology or party: both left and right governments have a long history diversion of funds, tax evasion and corruption at all levels. One reflection of this was revealed in the so-called “Panama Papers” which were all over international press for exposing how Latin American politicians of all ideological types had million-dollar reserves not declared in the Caribbean country.

In this paper, we will focus on the two countries with the highest GDP in all Latin America, Brazil and Mexico, which, unlike the rest of Latin America, are the two countries that in turn have experienced a significant turnaround in the last elections.

The population has become fed up with business as usual and began to seek alternative visions for their country. This is how, despite the absence of a strong political culture among the masses, alternatives to the political mainstream are growing.

The case of Brazil with Bolsonaro is possibly the one that had the most impact internationally due to the importance of Brazil at a regional level, as well as Jair Bolsonaro’s position on the political and cultural scene. Brazil, as an emerging power that displaced the United Kingdom in 2011 from the sixth largest power in the world (BBC News, 2012), has an important influence in all of South America. However, it is a country affected by stagnating economic growth, increased insecurity, and the implementation of progressive, anti-traditional cultural policies. And let’s not forget perhaps the most important factor: the corruption scandals involving the left wing ex-presidents Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff (New York Times, 2017). All these elements contributed to the rise of an  “anti-system and anti-globalization” figure that Bolsonaro personalized, pushing Christian traditions against LGBTQ lobbies, feminism, drugs, and aiming to introduce hard-line law and order policies against criminals and corruption.

In terms of foreign and economic policy, the Liberal Social Party (the political party of Bolsonaro) also presents a change in this aspect, but could not be described as truly anti-system or anti-globalization. In foreign relations, the name that most reflects those values is Ernesto Araujo, Bolsonaro;s new chancellor, who is a well-known critic of globalization who publicly and ideologically defended Trump and the impact he is generating in the West (MercoPress, 2018).  Imitating the Trump administration, Bolsonaro’s party through Araujo promises closer relations with Israel (Times of Israel, 2018), a greater distance from China and of course an increase in cooperation with the United States.

On the economic side, there is a dichotomy between, on the one hand, Bolsonaro’s protectionist statements regarding the economic penetration of China, Brazil’s main trading partner, while, on the other hand, the fact that the Brazilian president appointed Paulo Guedes as economic adviser and minister of finance. Paulo Guedes is a well-known defender of economic liberalism that proposes to liberalize the Brazilian economy, reducing public spending, ceasing to prioritize MERCOSUR and changing the axis of focus in the economic policies carried out until then (The Economist, 2018). If the measures proposed by Guedes are completed, Brazil would replace Argentina, Brazil’s largest trading partner in South America, with Chile, a country that was traditionally far from the policies of South American integration and closer to the United States.

In the Mexican case, we find the figure of López Obrador, a leftist politician who presented himself as an alternative to the traditional parties that controlled the political spectrum of the Aztec country in recent years. The new Mexican president and his National Regeneration Movement party (MORENA) promise to generate a series of important changes in economic and social policies, as well as in foreign policy. For this reason, the new Mexican president generated the discontent of voters fed up with corruption, inequality and poverty, thanks to a strong social policy agenda of his program.

Unlike the conservative vision of Bolsonaro in the social aspect, López Obrador offers a more progressive agenda that, from the Catholic and more conservative sectors, has been heavily criticized, particularly one of his proposals which has been accused of being a “Ley Mordaza” (essentially a gag law) against anyone opposing his gender ideology (Time, 2018). Although López Obrador defined himself on several occasions as a leftist and, in others, as a liberal, the truth is that his measures and proposals are nonetheless accused of being “conservative” and “authoritarian” by most liberal critics in favor of globalization. Thus, socially and economically, the well-known liberal British newspaper “Financial Times” described López Obrador as someone more dangerous than Bolsonaro for liberal democracy (Financial Times, 2018). This is because the MORENA party presents innovative nationalist and socialist positions that alarm the liberal sectors, especially because the party won the elections with a greater margin of voters than it would take to grant greater decision-making power in the various chambers of government, unlike Bolsonaro who faces internal opposition.

In terms of foreign policy, the new president promotes an agenda of understanding with the US in different matters, including migration policies, regarding which he proposes the promotion of development policies and investments in Mexico and Central America to prevent the population from being forced to migrate and enter the US illegally. (EFE, 2018) On the other hand, the political isolation that Maduro’s Venezuela is suffering will be relaxed due to the new and more open stance of the Mexican president, who had also positioned himself in favor of dialogue and against intervention in Venezuela (Telesurenglish, 2018), and invited the Venezuelan president to witness the inauguration of his new government.

In regards to economics, the new Mexican president proposed, among many other things, to review the NAFTA agreement(North American Free Trade Agreement). A meeting about the changes took place months before he assumed his mandate, resulting in favorable changes for the US and for Mexico, according to López Obrador. The Mexican president argued that not only local economies were protected while free trade and economic development were favored, but also that the sovereignty of Mexico’s energy resources will be protected (López Obrador, 2018). After this revision of NAFTA, the new treaty was baptized as the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), which will become a very important part for the Mexican economy, which MORENA promised to promote and grow at a rate of 4% per year.

We can conclude that Latin America currently has no serious groups that will be push for anti-globalization policies in all areas, but, the new Mexican and Brazilian governments, for the time being, present a mix of transitory policies which will help to achieve this goal. Meanwhile, we are witnessing the center-left and center-right parties in Europe grow exhausted– it is a trend that is unlikely to end anytime soon, and will surely become more relevant as the years go by and the new governments of Brazil and Mexico fulfill their ambitions and obtain positive results. In the rest of the Ibero-American countries there have not emerged strong anti-globalization politicians who have any significant hold on power, but perhaps the case of Mexico and Brazil will serve as an example, and we will soon see such movements begin to grow.


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EFE. (2018). Lopez Obrador expects to speak soon with Trump about migration issue. [online] Available at: https://www.efe.com/efe/english/world/lopez-obrador-expects-to-speak-soon-with-trump-about-migration-issue/50000262-3834463 [Accessed 14 Dec. 2018].

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Gonzalo Collado De Giovannini
Argentinian Spanish-Italian Historian and Analyst specializated on Geopolitics, International Security and Global Affairs. Twitter: @GonzaloCDG