‘Populism is a cancer, not only in Latin America but also in the US and Europe,’ former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa says

Carlos Mesa served as president of Bolivia from 2003 to 2005. Today he remains one of the country's most important political figures.
Source: Gloria Carrasco

Latin America is facing a "weakening of democratic institutions," but it is not the only region experiencing democratic challenges, said former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa in an interview with Global South World.

What are the current challenges for Latin America? Where does the region stand from a global perspective? And what does the future hold?

Watch this interview:

"Populism is the most dramatic cancer"

Latin America is a victim of populism, "the most dramatic cancer," but so are "the strongest and most established democracies," such as the American and the European ones, Carlos Mesa explained.

“Populism is born of abundance. When abundance runs out, populism reveals its weaknesses,” he said, quoting Uruguay's former president Julio María Sanguinetti.

The Bolivian historian, who served as president from 2003 to 2005, believes that populism is destroying democratic institutions, and states that it must be fought and exposed for what it is: “The destruction of institutions and the economy, the construction of friend-enemy spaces, and a black-and-white view of the world".

Asked about which Latin American countries he considers to be the most affected by the rise of populism, Mesa listed Nicaragua and Venezuela, “without a doubt".

“They destroyed, perverted, and degraded institutionality. The same is true for Bolivia,” he added.

"A weakening of democratic institutions"

According to Mesa, some Latin American governments, both from the left wing and the right wing, are showing their “authoritarian nature”.

"We are witnessing the argument that authoritarianism and the reduction of freedom should be accepted in exchange for security," Mesa said.

Migration, violence, and a growing presence of organised crime, drug and human trafficking are some of the reasons he linked to this issue, weakening democratic institutions.

"Latin America doesn’t have internal or international wars, but it has the most violent cities in the world."

Inflation, rising costs, and the need for foreign investment

This complex political scenario is compounded by a worrisome economic crisis in the continent, according to the former president. As a consequence, Latin America’s "economic and political influence" on the international stage “is decreasing”.

“The region is facing a situation of increasing inflation, rising costs, and the need for significant foreign investment,” he said. 

Mesa mentioned Bolivia as one of the countries with a "gloomy" outlook.

"We are facing the beginning of a crisis: subsidies, fiscal deficit, an economic situation marked by the depletion of basic natural resource reserves and the reserves of the Central Bank of Bolivia, the end of the gas era, and the need to import more gas, petrol, and diesel than we export."

Regarding international trade, the former president believes that finding the right interlocutor in the region is a challenge for the rest of the world.

"The European Union, the United States, or even the bloc led by China, have a basic question: Who do I talk to?" Mesa explained. "Do I speak with countries that have bilateral free trade agreements? Do I speak with a bloc like Mercosur, which today has a president like Lula in one direction and Milei in the other?"

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So, what are the challenges for Latin America and what does the future look like?

"The most important thing is rebuilding a credible and true democratic model," Mesa stated, emphasising that institutional reconstruction is key.

"A region, a country, or a society without institutions has no future," he said.

The former president insisted that countries, such as Bolivia, can’t continue to depend on natural resources indefinitely because they are "fragile, limited, and dependent on an international market that controls prices".

"We need to build a new space where investors are partners of our countries, where we are not simply suppliers of raw materials and they are not simply suppliers of technology and investment."

Mesa also highlighted that Latin America has "extraordinary investment potential," but the continent needs to change its consumption model and its view of the environment.

"We have to engage in the fight for carbon reduction, combat pollution, and explore the possibilities of both renewable and non-renewable natural resources that can enable us to diversify our energy model," he said.

The former Bolivian president concluded that, in order to address these challenges, Latin America must understand itself as a large region composed of at least three blocs acting in an integrated manner: South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and North America.

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