The stories that changed Latin America in 2022

The past year saw a political swing leftward in countries like Brazil and Colombia as well as crises and World Cup gold.

Supporters of Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather outside the Brazil Electoral Court building [File: Ton Molina/AFP]

The last twelve months have seen several major changes in Latin America, as 2022 brought elections, scandals and one major sports triumph.

Politically, a leftward swing has continued to shake up governments across the region, with some experts calling the trend a new “pink tide”. Colombia elected its first left-wing leader, and in neighbouring Brazil, former union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro to become the country’s next president.

Meanwhile, myriad crises have continued, with Haiti falling further into insecurity, and El Salvador accused of widespread human rights abuses in its crackdown on deadly gang violence.

In the world of sport, there was at least one positive note to end the year, with Argentina winning the World Cup championship — marking the first time in 20 years that a Latin American team has brought home the trophy.

Here are the stories that defined 2022:

Lula beats Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election

Hailed as his party’s “phoenix”, Lula saw a remarkable reversal of fortunes in 2022, securing a narrow victory in Brazil’s run-off election against current right-wing president Bolsonaro.

The election came just more than a year and a half after a Brazilian Supreme Court judge quashed all corruption convictions against Lula, who spent 580 days in prison.

The left-wing leader, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2011, promised to be an antidote to the Trumpian Bolsonaro, running on a platform of economic and social justice in response to widespread inequality and poverty in Brazil.

During a raucous reception at the United Nations COP27 climate conference in Egypt, Lula also pledged to reassert Brazil – home to large portions of the Amazon rainforest – as a global leader in environmentalism. He is set to be inaugurated on January 1.

Haiti crisis deepens

Overlapping crises in Haiti have only worsened over the last year, with the country’s top diplomat to the US openly appealing for controversial foreign intervention.

Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, armed gangs have taken control of large swathes of the country.

In November, Ulrika Richardson, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the country, told reporters that gangs were using sexual violence to “instill fear and to punish and to terrorise the local populations”. She estimated that 60 percent of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince had fallen under gang domination.

The insecurity has crippled aid delivery to the country, where half the population faces acute food shortages, according to the World Food Programme, and where cholera cases have spiked at the year’s end.

Chile says no to new constitution

It was the progressive overhaul that was not.

Championed by left-wing President Gabriel Boric, the proposed constitution would have replaced the current charter — adopted during the rule of military dictator Augusto Pinochet — with a document that places greater emphasis on social rights, the environment and gender equality.

But the new charter was soundly rejected by Chileans in September, with 61.9 percent voting against adoption and 38.1 percent voting in favour.

While many support the concept of a new constitution, critics said September’s proposal lacked a clear structure and overreached in key areas. In December, legislators from both the country’s left and right agreed to begin drafting another attempt.

Peru’s president impeached, arrested

A quicksilver series of events on December 7 saw Peru’s President Pedro Castillo attempt to dissolve Congress, get impeached and end up behind bars.

It all played out in just a few hours, capped by the swearing-in of Castillo’s former vice president, Dina Boluarte, to the top job. In the process, Boluarte became Peru’s first female president.

Unrest among Castillo’s supporters quickly grew, sparking protests, and clashes with police and military left over 20 people dead.

To diffuse the tension, Boluarte appealed to Peru’s Congress to move general elections up from 2026 to 2023. An initial attempt failed to gain enough votes in the legislature, but on December 20, the opposition-led Congress tentatively approved a constitutional reform that would make it possible to move the election forward. The plan must still be ratified by a two-thirds majority.

Deadliest year in decades for Mexico’s journalists

At least 15 media workers were killed in Mexico in 2022, according to an Associated Press tally, making it the deadliest year for journalists in three decades.

Mexico was second only to war-torn Ukraine in the number of journalists killed during the year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with observers citing the prominence of criminal gangs, complicity of local officials, and government inaction for the rise.

The violence was punctuated in December by a brazen attack on Ciro Gomez Leyva, one of Mexico’s most prominent radio and television reporters, according to CPJ. He survived the Mexico City attack thanks to bulletproof armour on his vehicle.

Argentina wins the World Cup

“I’m Argentinian! It’s a feeling I can’t contain,” sang revellers in the country’s capital of Buenos Aires after the national team, led by superstar Lionel Messi, defeated France to win the World Cup, international football’s biggest event.

It was the first time since 1986 that Argentina took home the World Cup trophy — and the first time in decades that any Latin American team triumphed in the final.

Fans wearing the colours of Argentina’s blue-and-white flag descended upon Qatar, this year’s World Cup host, underscoring the team’s uniquely international reach.

But it came down to a nailbiter, with 23-year-old French striker Kylian Mbappe nearly swiping the championship with a Herculean hat trick in the waning minutes of the match.

With France and Argentina tied at three goals apiece, the tournament champion was crowned through penalty kicks. But the trophy ultimately came home to the house that Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona built.

Colombia elects first leftist leader

A leftward trend across Latin America continued with the June presidential victory of Gustavo Petro in Colombia.

Petro, a former rebel fighter who ran on a platform of profound social and economic change, became the first left-wing president in a country that has long marginalised the left for its perceived association with years of armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, became the country’s first Afro-Colombian female vice president.

El Salvador gang crackdown

In early December, residents of Soyapango, a densely populated municipality on the outskirts of San Salvador, woke up to 10,000 police and military personnel on the streets.

It was the latest move in a controversial gang crackdown by president Nayib Bukele. In March, the government imposed a state of exception that suspended some civil liberties and led to the mass incarceration of nearly 60,000 Salvadorans.

Rights groups have documented an array of abuses since the crackdown began, including violations of due process, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody.

Argentina VP survives assassination attempt

Shocking video captured a man pointing a gun at the head of Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner outside of her Buenos Aires home in September.

The attacker pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Fernandez de Kirchner, who was under investigation for corruption at the time, survived unscathed. The gunman, meanwhile, was arrested.

In early December, Fernandez de Kirchner was sentenced to six years in prison on charges that she fraudulently awarded public works contracts to a family friend in Patagonia, a stronghold for her political career.

She remains in office and has said she plans to appeal the conviction.

Surge in Darien Gap crossings

Panama’s National Migration Service said in October that 151,582 migrants and refugees had crossed the Darien Gap, an inhospitable stretch of mountainous jungle between Columbia and Panama, since January.

The number set a new record, surpassing the 133,726 crossings recorded in 2021, with the increase attributed to the economic fallout of COVID-19 and an uptick of people leaving Venezuela.

The 106km (66-mile) trek can take more than a week, with many bound for the US border. There, they often met with expulsion under Title 42, a policy invoked under former US President Donald Trump that allows border agents to turn away most people crossing the border as a COVID-19 prevention.

In mid-December, Title 42 was set to expire. But in response to a request from mainly Republican lawmakers, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether states can challenge ending the policy. It will remain in place until at least February, when the case is scheduled.

Source: Al Jazeera