South America: A year of people power

Protests in Brazil, marijuana legalisation in Uruguay and the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez dominated headlines.

Tens of thousands mourned the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013 [Reuters]
Tens of thousands mourned the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013 [Reuters]

The year 2013 in South America will be mostly remembered for people power. The death of Venezuela’s political titan, Hugo Chavez, who had been in power since 1999, brought millions of his supports to the streets to queue for up to 10, 11, 12 hours to pay their final respects to him. It also re-energized millions of people in the Venezuelan political opposition, who narrowly lost out to Nicolas Maduro, the Chavez ally, in the race to replace the man himself.

And in Brazil, the giant that casts a growing shadow over the rest of the continent, over the course of several weeks millions of rich, poor, young and old took to the streets nationwide in unprecedented and unexpected protests that left politicians of all stripes humbled and scrambling for answers to popular unrest.

In 2014 we start anew, and what a year it is shaping up to be.

There will be a key presidential election in May in Colombia, where centrist incumbent Juan Manuel Santos is expected to seek a second term and likely have a dual task of fending of challengers from the “security-first” political right as well as the progressive left. All the while, while the government and FARC rebels are expected to continue the long slog (but high stakes) closed-door peace talks in Havana. Don’t be fooled, Santos’ political future depends on the outcome of what happens in Havana as much as Bogota.

Don’t ignore popular power

There will be presidential elections in 2014 in both Uruguay and Bolivia.

In Uruguay incumbent Jose Mujica, the mastermind behind the much-hyped marijuana legalisation, is constitutionally banned from running for re-election. How to manage the controversial new marijuana law will certainly be a key topic in the election and I suspect watched just as closely abroad as in Montevideo.

In Bolivia, president Evo Morales, the countries’ first indigenous leader, will run for a third term to remain president, a position he’s held since 2006.

In 2014 both the UN COP 20 climate change summit will be in Peru, and the 6 th BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil. Both will bring international attention, and world leaders, to the region in an attempt to address big issues of the day.  

But the truth is, 2014 likely will be Brazil’s year. That little thing called the Fifa World Cup kicks off in Sao Paulo on June 12. For the fifth time in history, but the first since 1978, this football-crazed continent will play host to football’s centerpiece event.

And just a couple months after the World Cup, a switch from sport to politics as Brazilian’s in the regions largest democracy will go to the polls as President Dilma Rousseff seeks re-election. While her support is not as sky-high as it was pre-protests, she has clawed her way back and right now is sitting on a comfortable lead in the early polls against her likely opposition adversaries, none of whom begin formal campaigning until early next year.

There’s much to watch in South America in 2014 and plenty of political and sport glitz and glamour to go around.

There will be a fare share of powerful people elbowing their way in for important jobs.

But in 2014 don’t forget to pay attention to everyone else in this region; the common men and women, especially the youth, who make up the masses. The people power as opposed to the powerful people .

If 2013 taught us anything in South America – especially here in Brazil – it was this: Ignore people power at your own risk. Because once they collectively rise up and roar like a lion, all bets are off on everything else.

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter: @elizondogabriel

Source : Al Jazeera

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