Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues for the 109th Congress

Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues for the 109th Congress

Latin America and the Caribbean:

Issues for the 109 th Congress

Conditions in the Region

The Latin America and Caribbean region has made enormous strides over the

past two decades in political development, with all countries but Cuba having regular

free and fair elections for head of state. Despite this democratic progress, several

nations face considerable challenges that could threaten political stability, including

persistent poverty, violent guerrilla conflicts, autocratic leaders, drug trafficking,

increasing crime, and the rise of radical populism in several Latin American

countries. In some countries, weaknesses remain in the state’s ability to deliver

public services, ensure accountability and transparency, and advance the rule of law.

Already in 2006, presidential elections have been held in Chile, Costa Rica,

Haiti, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and Guyana, and additional elections are scheduled

for Brazil and Ecuador in October, Nicaragua in November, and Venezuela in

December. In Mexico, the narrow official victory of conservative candidate Felipe

Calderón over leftist Andrés López Obrador elicited a dramatic response from López

Obrador who has vowed to continue protesting the electoral outcome. St. Lucia is

due to hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year, and the new Jamaican

government of Portia Simpson Miller, the country’s first woman prime minister,

might call elections this year.

While the region overall experienced a gross domestic product (GDP) decline

of 0.6% in 2002 and only a modest growth rate of 1.5% in 2003, the region

rebounded with an estimated growth rate of 5.9% in 2004, surpassing even the most

optimistic predictions. Every country in the region, with the exception of Haiti,

experienced positive economic growth, and even per capita income for the region as

a whole increased by more than 4% for the year. Countries that had suffered the

deepest recessions in recent years — Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela — all

experienced significant economic growth in 2004. Growth continued in 2005 at a

rate of 4.5%, with Argentina and Venezuela registering the strongest growth rates,

and a growth rate of 4.6% is projected for the region in 2006. 1

The Andean region still faces considerable challenges, including the rise of a

radical form of populism in several countries. Colombia continues to be threatened

by drug trafficking organizations and by two left-wing guerrilla groups and a rightist

paramilitary group, all of which, combined, have been responsible for thousands of

deaths each year. Bolivia has experienced political unrest over the last few years,

1 U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “Latin

America and the Caribbean, Projections 2006-2007,” April 2006.