There will be presidential elections in six Latin American countries in 2018. They include Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Operation “Car Wash” corruption investigations, kickback schemes, the mere hint that someone uttered “Odebrecht” and non-stop corporate media proclivity for their darling candidates have shrouded Brazil's October 2018 presidential election in uncertainty.
That comes without mentioning over a year lost since the country's first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, fell victim to what many observers denote as a parliamentary coup, giving way to senate-imposed President Michel Temer.
His gratuitous term in office, rejected by 88 percent of the people, according to the latest CNI/Ibope poll, is a tipsy walk down memory lane – austerity on steroids, labor reforms, proposed pension reforms, a 20-year cap on public spending, auctioning or sale of Petrobras and other publicly-owned companies and lapdog adherence to the whims of the international market.
Rhetoric of change has convinced few, especially compared to the daily struggle for basic necessities. Even the cost of residential gas cylinders, needed to fire up one's stove to prepare daily meals, has skyrocketed more than 67 percent since August.
Should it come as a surprise that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, having left office with a record approval rating of 83 percent, according to Datafolha, now leads upcoming presidential polls conducted by Vox Populi, Datafolha, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana, the National Confederation of Transportation/MDA and Ipsos?
Bearing that his candidacy is not invalidated through a salacious corporate media and lawfare campaign, Lula will, more likely than not, win a third term in office next year.
“If they don't want me to be a (presidential) candidate, go to the polls and vote against me. Don't create artifices and tricks to prevent my candidacy,” he told his judicial and media mogul opponents.
The seeds of his mass popularity began to spawn back in 1968, in broad day of Brazil's military dictatorship, when he joined the Sao Bernardo Metal Workers Union, an organization he considered to be so "boring" that he preferred staying at home watching soap operas.
Elected president of the workers' union in 1975, Lula advocated for workers' rights, organized mass strikes and sought to improve communication within their ranks.
Having experienced drought, famine, plagues and abject poverty during his childhood in Brazil's northeastern state of Pernambuco, Lula would never forget his less than humble beginnings, nor working as a shoeshine boy in 1953, when the people of Brazil elected him president in 2003.
What else but a slew of social programs to mark his two terms in office, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the U.N. World Hunger Map. When the World Food Program hailed the country as a champion in the fight against hunger, former Social Development Minister Tereza Campello said, “leaving the Hunger Map is a historic milestone for Brazil."
"We are very proud because overcoming hunger was a priority for the Brazilian state," she added.
One of Lula's most ambitious and successful programs was, and still is, the Family Allowance (Bolsa Familia). Launched in 2003, it provides stipends to families living below the poverty line. In turn, those families must prove that their children are attending school and have been vaccinated.
Also, his achievements in housing and education pale in comparison to those who ruled the country over the past 500 years.
However, Brazil's political terrain is polarized due to seemingly-endless corruption investigations and a less than lukewarm economic recovery, which has fed into rising crime rates.
In comes congressman Jair Bolsonaro, Lula's closest opponent in next year's election.
In November, during an audio-taped interview with the Financial Times, Bolsonaro took time to note that people enjoyed “total freedom" during the country's military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964-1984, claiming that Brazilians traveled “to Disneyland and returned home.”
Last year, during Rousseff's impeachment vote, he used his congressional speaking time to not only rally in favor of her ouster, but also praise Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the dictatorship's notorious torture program in the 1970s. He cited Ustra as “the source of Dilma Rousseff's dread,” referring to the fact that she, as a young woman, was imprisoned for three years for being a leftist guerrilla and suffered torture, including electrocution under his watch.
Dilma maintained her composure before responding. She told reporters that Bolsonaro's remarks were “regrettable,” a dignified understatement considering the women who had rats shoved in their vaginas and tortured in other ways during those “dark days” marked by Latin American dictatorships.
Having proposed restoring military rule during his political career, Bolsonaro has also been quoted as saying that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet "should have killed more people.” Moreover, he has said, “Women should earn less because they get pregnant" and "I'd be incapable of loving a homosexual son."
His candidacy is a sign of the times.
Lula, for the most part, has declined responding tit for tat with his main rival. Instead, three caravans have taken him through the country's northeast region and the states of Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo and Rio de Janeiro, where he has advocated for a return to policies focused on social inclusion.
“Everybody knows whose side I'm on and who I'll govern for,” Lula said.
We would “have to ask permission from the National Congress in order to change many errant things,” Lula said about the legal mechanism, adding that he'd “prefer to stay home rather than become a candidate, get elected (president) and realize that everything's wrong but I can't do anything about it.”
Ultimately, the stakes are high when it comes to Brazil's 2018 presidential election. South America's geographic giant is a horse fueling its economic engine, trade and commerce in the broader region and beyond.
Uncertainty standing in the way between Lula and his candidacy has mobilized people on the frontlines. Their mission: to regain the narrative of social progress over a debauchery of judicial meddling and a genuine media circus poised to neutralize the country's most popular politician
The battle has reached almost messianic proportions, which, in itself, presents dangers in the way of the democratic process.
Venezuela's 2018 presidential election comes on the heels of a Bolivarian Revolution tour-de-force. Internal dissent, a deadly beat which saw the likes of Orlando Jose Figuera burned alive on a public street for simply “being Chavista,” was tactfully quelled by the government and its supporters.
Peace negotiations with the opposition are moving forward and have been supported by several governments.
That said, over 100 people didn't die in vain for the telltale bulwark of people's resistance, much more than the disarray within the government opposition. This sheds light on what to expect in next year's election.
Loyalists to the legacy left by Hugo Chavez dominated the National Constituent Assembly, ANC, elections in July. The same occured in the gubernatorial elections in October and, more recently, municipal elections this month.
Needless to say, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, dominated at the ballot box in all cases.
Neither external threats of intervention headed by U.S. President Donald Trump nor sanctions have bullied the populace to surrender the helms of self-determination and popular democracy.
Although official candidates of the people have yet to be announced, a potential runner is ANC President, Delcy Rodriguez. Some observe that her candidacy will be strengthened if the economy improves during her leadership of the government body.
Whereas mainstream media portrayed the ANC election as a tool to convert Venezuela into a "dictatorship," Don Kovalik, a U.S. human rights and labor lawyer, invited by the National Electoral Council to assist the ANC voting process, said the institution “opens the possibility for greater democracy.” He added that the 545 elected delegates “represent various sectors of the population,” including, but not limited to, Indigenous people, students, women, disabled people, workers and Afro-Venezuelans.
And while the U.S. State Department deemed the ANC an “illegitimate product of a flawed process,” few were impressed, lesser distracted, by its peddling of a worn out “democracy” card having seated a president who garnered second place in the popular vote and installed by an elitist electoral college.
Another potential presidential candidate is Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Tareck El Aissami, and, of course, having only served one term, current President Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver who previously served as foreign minister.
Though peace negotiations between the government and opposition have made significant ground, little has been said of an opposition candidate capable of breaking almost 18 years of socialist government.
However, a Hinterlaces poll released earlier this month reveals that Lorenzo Mendoza, owner of Grupo Popular, a Venezuelan brewery, packaging and food processing company, would beat all opposition candidate leaders in the primaries if he decided to run for president.
Paraguay's presidential election takes place on April 22, 2018. Vying for the top spot is the ruling, right-wing National Republican Association, or Colorado Party. Santiago Peña, a former International Monetary Fund, IMF, employee and finance minister. His opponent, Mario Abdo, is a senator, the son of a private secretary to former dictator General Alfredo Stroessner.
Little, if any, separate the two in policy terms. Both candidates seek to spur the economy through foreign investment and austerity measures, expressing hazy commitments concerning issues related to healthcare and education.
Since the expeditious impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2012, the opposition alliance between the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, PLRA, and the leftist Guasu Front has remained weakened.
Nevertheless, the Guasu Front announced last year that Lugo will run for president.
“The Guasu Front entered in the political arena to stay, we did not come to do a fashion show or exhibitionism in Paraguayan politics, we came to stay and transform our history,” Lugo said.
However, political commentator Estela Ruiz Diaz said that “none of the PLRA candidates standing for the presidency incite passion,” adding that they still have to settle their “own feuds.”
Not counting the four-year hiatus under Lugo, the past seven decades of Colorado Party politics attest to the absence of progressive leadership in the landlocked country.
Colombia's May 2018 presidential election comes amid grave discrepancies between rhetoric and reality. Despite the signing of peace accords between former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, guerrillas and the government, at least 110 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia this year. In fact, as of November, 27 former FARC combatants and 11 FARC family members have been killed.
Coca crop production in areas once controlled by the FARC has also increased and peace negotiations with the country's second-largest revolutionary group, the National Liberation Army, ELN, have been put at risk due to the government's reneging on the “rules and commitments signed” in the bilateral ceasefire, according to the insurgent group.
Odebrecht has also veered its taint onto the country's political spectrum. In August, Colombian Senator, Bernardo Miguel Elias, was arrested outside of his Bogota apartment on charges that he had received bribes from Brazil's engineering and construction giant at the center of a global graft scandal.
Colombia's Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, said that government officials received US$27 million in Odebrecht bribes as the company sought to secure a road-building contract, according to Reuters.
This year's mass strike organized by the people of Choco state and the city of Buenaventura brought to light the pittance in public investment in traditional African-descendent and Indigenous communities.
These are just some of the pressing issues that the next Colombian presidential hopeful will have to address to occupy the Palacio de Nariño next year.
Humberto de la Calle, chief government negotiator who helped seal the FARC peace agreement, has announced, “I want to be president.” Having defeated Juan Fernando Cristo in the internal consultation by 40,881 votes, according to Colombia Reports, de la Calle will run as a Liberal Party candidate.
In June, Colombia's most prominent human rights activist, former Senator Piedad Cordoba, officially announced her plans to run for president and has begun the process of collecting signatures to launch her campaign.
"I announce to the country that I am going to be a candidate and I will be president of Colombia in 2018," Cordoba wrote on her official Twitter account.
In an interview with El Colombiano, the Afro-Colombian lawyer said she will focus on tackling social inequality and fighting corruption.
“The majority of citizens no longer feel represented by the old politics that neither talks about their problems nor resolves them,” she noted. “It is time to team up with society. The election of 2018 will endorse a demand for change.”
A renowned figure in the country and region, Cordoba is a long-time peace activist who has worked with human rights organizations on sociopolitical issues.
Mexico's socio-political arena may be considered exceptional, especially being “so far from God, so close to the United States,” some say.
Mexican voters, indeed, Mexicans in general, are fed up by the constant flow of insults, increased deportations and great wall-building head of state to the north.
The result, leftist nationalist and former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, simply known as AMLO, tops several 2018 presidential polls. His numbers are steadily rising.
Unlike his failed presidential runs in 2006 and 2012, next year's election seem far more promising for AMLO, so much so that some investment banks, according to Foreign Policy, have already started to place their chips against the peso.
Just some of the issues to deal with include white-collar corruption, the killing of women, activists, journalists and others and stemming Mexican cartels that are fueled by the U.S. war on drugs.
Next year's general election, scheduled to take place on Feb. 4, will not be the typical “fiesta electoral” Costa Ricans are accustomed to. Pressing issues like the “cementazo” corruption case, which saw members of all three branches of government implicated this year, including President Luis Guillermo Solis, has made voters of this small, army-less country, more critical, if not disillusioned, with the person entrusted with leading their country.
Polls in November show that Costa Rican voters, four out of 10, are undecided about which presidential candidate they prefer. For those who have made their choice, businessman and former legislator, Antonio Alvarez Desanti, of the National Liberation Party, PLN, and lawyer and former Cabinet minister, Juan Diego Castro, member of the National Integration Party, PIN, are currently in the lead.
While a second round may be needed to determine which of the two wins the majority vote, the percentage of undecided voters may very well alter the panorama, as it did in 2014, days before the election takes place.
Two vice-presidents and 57 new Legislative Assembly members will also be determined during next year's general election, according to The Tico Times.
Creating more jobs, improving public health, reducing crime and boosting the economy are some of the challenges awaiting the Central American country's next president.
Though recognized by Western countries as a democracy, Costa Rican law forbids its president from using her or his position to influence elections, requiring the head of state to renounce the party that secured their seat in the government. Hence, an electoral blackout is imposed on the executive branch, as well as all public institutions to prevent the party in power from self-promotion. Only urgent, public service news transmissions are allowed, according to The Tico Times.
Legislators, on the other hand, are permitted to rally behind their preferred candidates, bearing that public funds are not used to do so.