U.S. rivals are frustrating its strategy through social media disinformation.
As recession looms, the Ukraine war continues without resolution, and China tries to open up after months of lockdowns, Latin America has uncharacteristically made headlines lately. Last month in Peru, the legislature removed its president from office. Later in Bolivia, opposition protests shut down major transit routes in Santa Cruz province, which accounts for nearly a third of the country’s area. More recently, supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed and vandalized several government buildings in Brasilia.
In a region where political unrest rarely affects the world at large, the latest bouts of instability are more consequential: Discontent driven by political anxieties is a ripe environment for U.S. adversaries to use propaganda and social media campaigns to undermine Washington’s efforts to bring these areas more firmly under its control.
Indeed, many expect social unrest to intensify in 2023. Lags in economic recovery and rising costs of living have given rise to broad, intense and well-populated protests even by the standards of Latin America, where protesting is all but a national pastime. Nearly a third of the region lives in poverty, and impoverished households now rely more on social assistance and less on labor income than they did before the pandemic.
Labor recovery remains slow, characterized by an increase in informal jobs. Inflation has already reduced household purchasing power, with private consumption slowing in the second half of 2022. The region’s economic growth is expected to slow from 3.7 percent last year to a mere 1.3 percent this year, according to estimates from the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The region’s economies, governments and citizens are ill-equipped to face another year of economic hardship. Latin American governments are no longer in pandemic-induced crisis mode, and their populations are now holding them accountable for the aftermath. This is all the more worrisome as governments remain constrained over the amount of fiscal spending they do to solve their economic woes and grapple with high debt, especially since there is notable risk of further currency depreciation. A volatile global economy has made governments more risk-averse and has slowed capital inflows to the region. The call for a change in political office and leadership is increasingly more commonplace.
This kind of environment plays to the strengths of Russia and China – namely, social media propaganda. Both use Latin America’s proximity to the United States to create problems in Washington. Until recently, both engaged on the economic front to gain more influence in the region. Russia targeted strategic industries like energy, while China used financing and mergers and acquisitions to occupy roles in important infrastructure and natural resource projects. Both, however, now face major economic constraints that force them to use other tools.
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Allison Fedirka is the director of analysis for Geopolitical Futures. In addition to analyzing and writing about global geopolitical issues, she helps train new analysts, oversees the intellectual quality of analyst work and helps guide the forecasting process. Prior to joining Geopolitical Futures, Ms. Fedirka worked for Stratfor as a Latin America specialist and subsequently as the Latin America regional director. She lived in South America – primarily Argentina and Brazil – for more than seven years and, in addition to English, fluently speaks Spanish and Portuguese.