South America’s Far-Right Leaders Gather at CPAC Brasil

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Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.

The highlights this week: Brazil’s CPAC spinoff shows how Bolsonarism is echoing across South America, Bolivia’s former interim president is sentenced to 10 years in prison, and the crew of a mysterious cargo plane is detained in Argentina.

If you would like to receive Latin America Brief in your inbox every Friday, please sign up here.

The “Conservative Lollapalooza”

Last weekend, the Brazilian city of Campinas in São Paulo state played host to a conference that Brazilian broadcaster Jovem Pan billed as “the conservative Lollapalooza.” The third edition of CPAC Brasil—a spinoff of the U.S. Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—brought together right-wing personalities and politicians from Brazil and other parts of South America.

Among other guests, Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro (son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro) welcomed former Chilean presidential candidate José Antonio Kast—who lost to now-Chilean President Gabriel Boric last December—and Argentine congressman Javier Milei, who is planning a 2023 presidential run. Also in attendance was one-time aide to former U.S. President Donald Trump Jason Miller, whose messaging app Gettr was a co-sponsor of the event.

While polls suggest Jair Bolsonaro will lose Brazil’s presidential election in October, Kast’s and Milei’s upbeat appearances at CPAC Brasil are evidence that Bolsonaro’s brand of conservatism—inspired in part by that of Trump—has reverberated across the region. As in Brazil, in both Chile and Argentina, far-right figures have been endorsed by voters at levels not seen in decades while center-right politicians have withered.

Milei, for his part, has rocketed from being a relatively obscure economics professor to the figurehead of a libertarian coalition that received 17 percent of the vote in the city of Buenos Aires in legislative elections last November. A self-described anarcho-capitalist, Milei proposes dramatically shrinking the size of the Argentine state, making it easier for civilians to buy guns, and restricting abortion rights to cases where a woman’s life is in danger. Polls in recent weeks show him as one of the most popular presidential candidates for next year’s elections, alongside figures from more traditional parties.

Against this political backdrop, former Argentine President Mauricio Macri—the figurehead of the country’s center-right coalition—paid a visit to Mar-a-Lago, Florida, in April to meet personally with Trump.

“Macri knew very well that the meeting would spark a controversy” inside his coalition, wrote Clarín’s Ignacio Miri, but he went forward in an effort “to send a message to people who voted for him in the past and today [who] are looking favorably at candidates like Javier Milei.”

In Chile, Kast has remained prominent within the political right despite his election defeat, promoting the campaign for voters to reject the country’s draft constitution when it is put to a public referendum on Sept. 4.

The far right has not overtaken the moderate right in all of Latin America; center-right presidents are currently in power in Uruguay and Ecuador (though in Uruguay, a far-right former army commander won 11 percent of the vote in the 2019 election after founding a political party that year). But in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, far-right politicians’ relatively new prominence is noteworthy because these countries experienced bloody right-wing dictatorships during the Cold War, leading much of the public to spurn far-right politicians in the decades that followed.

Those dictatorships are now distant realities for a new generation of voters, and Latin American scholars point to factors like a lack of economic opportunity, corruption scandals, and online social forums as fueling the popularity of political figures who were previously on the fringe. That is certainly the case in Argentina, where a long-running economic crisis—with no apparent end in sight—helps explain voters’ openness to Milei.

Like Trump and Bolsonaro, Milei’s profile has risen in part through an irreverent social media presence. He has livestreamed himself raffling off his salary and remixes campaign videos to the sounds of rock music and roaring lions. His more buttoned-up counterparts, including Kast, are taking note.

“We have to leave [this event] occupying spaces, using social media,” and “putting the ideas we support out there,” Kast told supporters at CPAC Brasil. In the past, he said, “I think we didn’t work hard enough” in the sphere of public discourse.

Upcoming Events

Sunday, June 19: Colombia holds a presidential runoff election between Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández.

Wednesday, June 29, to Thursday, June 30: The United Nations Human Rights Council discusses Venezuela.

Monday, July 4: Chile’s constitutional assembly presents its final draft of its proposed new constitution to the public.

What We’re Following

Murder in the Amazon. On Wednesday night, Brazilian police said a man confessed to killing British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon. The man also identified what he said were the locations of their remains, which police recovered and submitted for forensic analysis.

The pair’s disappearance sparked outrage both in Brazil and internationally; before Wednesday’s police announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said he was “deeply concerned” about Phillips’s and Pereira’s fate. The Brazilian government’s efforts to find the two were sluggish at first, with Indigenous communities doing most of the searching.

Phillips was documenting Pereira’s work with Indigenous communities to defend their land from illegal fishing, mining, and other activities when they disappeared on June 5. Local media reports and the ongoing police investigation suggest Pereira may have been targeted for a string of denunciations he made about a criminal gang that illegally fished in Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous reserve. Indigenous affairs experts have argued that Bolsonaro’s dismantling of protections for the environment and Indigenous people make criminals who threaten the communities more confident they can do so with impunity.

“No one is afraid of invading Indigenous land anymore,” Sydney Possuelo, a former head of Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, told Roda Viva this week. He said the invaders “feel protected by the Presidency.”

Mysterious plane. The Iranian and Venezuelan crew of a Venezuelan cargo plane has been stuck in Buenos Aires since June 6 in a case that has prompted public scrutiny and few official answers. Iran sold the plane to Venezuela last year. After it traveled from Mexico to Argentina to deliver automobile parts this month, it planned to fly to Uruguay but was forced to turn back because it was denied permission to enter Uruguayan airspace. The plane had previously raised alarm bells among officials in Paraguay.

Argentina’s security minister said foreign intelligence agencies informed Buenos Aires that some of the crew members were part of companies linked to Iran’s elite Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is on a U.S. sanctions list. Argentine authorities seized the crew’s passports, but they did not immediately issue any charges against them. They and the plane remained in Buenos Aires as of Thursday.

Former interim Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez is escorted by police members of the Special Force Against Crime after being arrested in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 13, 2021.

Former interim Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez is escorted by police members of the Special Force Against Crime after being arrested in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 13, 2021.AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty Images

Sentencing in Bolivia. Jeanine Áñez, who served as Bolivia’s interim president after former President Evo Morales fled the country amid post-election protests in 2019, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last Friday on charges of dereliction of duty and making decisions that ran contrary to the Bolivian constitution. Morales’s party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), regained power after Luis Arce was elected president in 2020.

Commenting on the case, Human Rights Watch researcher César Muñoz tweeted that the events that led to Morales’s departure violated “basic democratic principles.” But Muñoz also criticized the fact that Áñez’s trial occurred without due process guarantees, such as the right to confer with her lawyers during hearings.

The crimes for which Áñez was convicted “are very broadly defined in Bolivian law,” he added. “They were misused by the Evo Morales government and the Áñez government in criminal cases that appear to be politically motivated.”

Question of the Week

Based on U.N. trade data, Reuters calculated that taken together, Latin American countries except Mexico increased their trade with China last year, leading to growth in the already existing gap between the volume of goods they exchange with Beijing versus with Washington. Import and export flows from most Latin American countries added up to some $247 billion with China and $174 billion with the United States.

Mexico is the big outlier in this trend due to its free trade agreement with the United States. How much did Mexico and the United States trade last year?

Mexico’s top exports to the United States included cars and personal electronic devices like computers and phones. Its top imports from the United States included oil products and vehicle parts.

In Focus: Migration Coordination

From left to right, Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Mario Búcaro, Uruguayan Foreign Affairs Minister Francisco Bustillo, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Argentine President Alberto Fernández, and Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez stand during a meeting of heads of delegation to adopt a declaration on migration on the sidelines of the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 10.

From left to right, Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Mario Búcaro, Uruguayan Foreign Affairs Minister Francisco Bustillo, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Argentine President Alberto Fernández, and Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez stand during a meeting of heads of delegation to adopt a declaration on migration on the sidelines of the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 10.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The capstone announcement at the ninth Summit of the Americas came after this newsletter was published last Friday: the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which was signed by at least 20 countries, including the United States.

The declaration laid out principles for Western Hemisphere countries to address migrant flows together, saying the countries intended to strengthen labor migration opportunities, protect asylum-seekers, share the responsibility for hosting migrants, manage migration in a more humane way, and improve livelihoods in migrants’ countries of origin.

Additionally, the United States committed to resettling 20,000 refugees from the Americas during fiscal years 2023 and 2024. (Fiscal year 2023 begins on Oct. 1.) Mexico said it would grant up to 20,000 people temporary worker permits and launch a separate temporary work program for up to 20,000 Guatemalans, whereas Canada said it aims to accept up to 4,000 refugees from the Americas by 2028. Some countries hosting large numbers of migrants, such as Peru and Brazil, did not announce any new pledges to go alongside the declaration, though they did sign on.

The full list of commitments drawn up by the White House includes several previously made pledges, such as Canada’s plan to accept some 50,000 temporary agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean this year.

Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) wrote that the declaration “is unique for the Americas in that it is the first attempt to create a common set of ideas about an issue that has risen to the top of policy concerns in many countries but, until now, had never generated a hemispheric conversation.”

On Tuesday, MPI published a report on how temporary worker programs in countries such as Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica “offer considerable promise as legal alternatives to irregular migration for Central Americans.” MPI added that the programs should also address concerns about exploitative recruitment practices and labor rights in receiving countries.

Some observers commented that the United States’ pledges were small in scale compared to the over 200,000 migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. Others noted the Biden administration’s lagging track record on meeting its other existing refugee resettlement targets. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service tweeted that the United States had only resettled 12,641 refugees of its target of 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.

“The Los Angeles Declaration will be successful,” Selee wrote, “if it’s the first, not the final, word on migration cooperation in the Americas, and the spark for efforts yet to come.”

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