Can Latin America avoid the global vortex in 2017?

After a year of disaster for the left, isolation and weak strategic importance could turn out to be blessings for the region

A careened towards the political right looks set to reshape the Americas in 2017 after a year that ended with the death of Cubas communist revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, and the imminent presidency of Donald Trump.

That seismic transformation has toppled the Workers party in Brazil, weakened Peronists in Argentina, threatened Mexico with a wall and insured growing problems for leftwing leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile.

The questions now are how much further this trend can go, which countries might be affected and the extent to which the wilder tendencies of fledgling administrations can be tempered by strong Chinese influence, sturdy international agencies and pragmatic strategic considerations.

The past 12 to 14 months have been a disaster for the Latin American left. After predominating the region for the previous decade, the pink tide of socialist government has ebbed and with it has run much of the progressive idealism that led to poverty reduction, improved access to healthcare and education, and greater rights for indigenous groups.

The reasons are manifold. Economically, many nations have been hit by weakening Chinese demand and the consequent ending of the commodity supercycle a once-in-a-generation boom in primary agricultural and mining products.

Dilma Rousseff during her impeachment trial in August. Photograph: Mario Tama/ Getty Images

Politically, there was also an unscrupulous plot to impeach Dilma Rousseff and end 13 years of Workers party rule in Brazil. But the left here as elsewhere must bear a large part of the blame, having failed to deliver on many promises, been heavily implicated in corruption scandals, and withdrawn / refused into a bunker mentality, with poor accountability.

Although the left in Brazil can partly blame treacherous allies and a hostile media, it also lost public subsistence through its own incompetence and complacency. This was true in other nations where established leftwing leaders suffered election defeats.

Following the electoral defeat in Argentina of Daniel Scioli Cristina Fernndez de Kirchners handpicked successor in November 2015 there were also setbacks for Nicolas Maduros ruling United Socialist party of Venezuela, or PSUV, in Venezuelan parliamentary elections, and for Evo Moraless efforts to change the constitution of Bolivia so he could stand for a fourth term.

Voters across the region like those in Colombia who turned against a peace deal, those in the UK who opted for Brexit, and those in the US who cast ballots for Trump were obviously jaded and “re ready for” change, however uncertain.

A advocate of the peace deal with the Farc, left, argues with an opponent in Bogot. Photograph: Ivan Valencia/ AP

Disturbingly, the main exception was a reversal for republic the Nicaragua vote in November, when Sandinista president Daniel Ortega was re-elected in a contest widely seen as one of the most rigged for decades.

But the biggest ripples will come from Trumps victory. Although his administration has yet to start and his public statements have often been contradictory, initial appointments suggests it will be the most protectionist, nationalist and confrontational American government for decades.

Mexico is on the frontline of the changes that Trump has promised, especially a southern perimeter wall and massive repatriation of illegal migrants. President Enrique Pea Nieto got off to a bad start with an ill-judged sessionwith Trump that appeared to erode public confidence in his rule.

His bureaucrats are now said to be working overtime to prepare for the shift in relations with the countrys superpower neighbour. If millions of undocumented migrants are deported at once, they could easily destabilise Mexico, which is already struggling with very high levels of violence and falling government popularity.

Donald Trump and Enrique Pea Nieto before a joint press conference in Mexico City in August. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/ AFP/ Getty Images

If Trump fulfils his campaign promises, the consequences could be grim. Ral Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at the Californian university UCLA, calculates the deportation of 3 million migrants would results in a US GDP loss of $2.6 tn over the next decade. If remittances are seized, he forecasts a $25 bn loss for Mexico, concentrated in poor regions. We have been attaining these types of projections for five years now, never imagining that it might actually happen, he said. It would be a disaster, and all of this would result in a dramatic blowback on the US.

Cuba is in conformity with the line of flame. While Barack Obama built bridges with a first US presidential visit to the island since Castros 1959 seizure of power, Trump celebrated the elderly revolutionarys demise, saying it could be an opportunity for the island to liberate itself from one-party regulation.

His aides have said they are ready to tear up the 2015 US-Cuba agreement unless Havana makes more concessions, which is code for multi-party democracy. Cuban officials bristle at the suggestion, saying it is an attempt to weaken the governmental forces of the island. For now, this is just rhetoric on both sides. But many fear ties will be put back in the deep freeze.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Trump has shown little political interest. Diplomats say this is good because it gives career diplomats a free hand to shape policy. But there are also concerns the president-elect may assure the region as a US backyard and move harder than his predecessor to influence elections and maximise fiscal returns for US investors.

A bookseller exhibits posters depicting Fidel Castro in Havana, the day after his death in November. Photograph: Adalberto Roque/ AFP/ Getty Images

Among them is Trumps own company, which is set to be run by his children. The potential conflicts of interest were highlighted in reports afterwards denied that he and his daughter discussed their companys business interests in a bellow with the Argentinian president, Mauricio Macri.

At first sight, it seems natural to assume that Macri would benefit from a Trump White House. Like Michel Temer in Brazil, he is from the pro-US, pro-business elite. But both are relatively centrist by their countries criteria. And both at least publicly support the regional free trade deals that Trump has pledged to replace with bilateral agreements.

Over the past decade, home countries have also done increasing business with China, which has diluted US influence in the region. That wont change – and might even grow, especially if Trump sets up walls while Beijing tries to open up trade. Certainly both Argentina and Brazil require an economic boost.

Looking ahead, the new centre-right governments in Brazil, Argentina and Peru( where Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won the presidency in 2016) appear far better placed to benefit from a Trump presidency than the Bolivarian left in Bolivia and Ecuador.

Venezuela, meanwhile, has come under more fire for its increasingly restrictive political policies and the spectacular failureof its economy, which has left it with the highest inflation in the world and worsening poverty levels.

Given these problems, it will be difficult to imagine Maduro will still be president this time next year, but he has proved his critics wrong in the past thanks to his control over the courts and the loyalty of the army. Nothing is a given.

Ral Castro, left, smiles as President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela speaks during a rally honouring Fidel Castro in Cuba in November. Photo: Ricardo Mazalan/ AP

The same might be said of the entire region. In an age of uncertainty, anti-globalisation movements, internet rumours, fake news and changing political sands, it will be tough for Latin America to avoid being sucked into bigger conflicts. But its relative isolation, modest significance to the global economy and weak strategic importance could all demonstrate a blessing if resentments erupt over the share of the global spoils elsewhere.

Maria Hermnia Tavares de Almeida, a professor at the University of So Paulo, said Latin Americas foreign trade had fallen to its lowest point in eight decades in 2016. As an expression of the results of declining prosperity, she said, there had been a fall in support for governments and political institutions.

More attention from Washington, however, was not the answer. Since the end of the cold war, US policy toward South America has been what is commonly called benign forget, entailing the region has little political importance to the United States. And thats good. If it goes on like this, even better, she said.

This is decreasingly the region of idealistic socialist innovators, but the switching from the left to the centre may yet make it a sanctuary from an increasingly polarised world. Much, though, will depend on whether economies can stabilise after a turbulent few years or whether they too is likely to be sucked into a downward global vortex.

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Venezuela Arrests 2 Former Oil Officials, Claiming Corruption – New York Times

New York Times

How exactly do USA beat Argentina in the Copa América semi-final?

Jrgen Klinsmanns team face one of the worlds best sides for a place in the final. But Lionel Messi and Co can be put off their stride with a few key tactics

After USA beat Ecuador and Argentina swept past Venezuela, the two teams will meet in the Copa America semi-finals on Tuesday night, with Argentina firm favorites to advance to the final( and indeed win the whole tournament .) But what can Jrgen Klinsmann do to stop them? And just as importantly can they do anything to cause Argentina problems? Here are a few tactics that could lead to an upset over Lionel Messi and Co.

Plug the holes wisely

We already know that three starters will be out for the semi-final part of the collateral damage from the victory over Ecuador. Bobby Wood, Alejandro Bedoya and, of course, the red-carded Jermaine Jones all miss out.

There arent a lot of silver lining in this scenario, but the good news largely center around the back-line get stronger thanks to DeAndre Yedlins return after suspension. Fabian Johnson should revert to the left, the Geoff Cameron/ John Brooks partnership – which has prospered in these championships – should remain untouched at the center, and with Brad Guzan in solid goal-keeping sort, at the very least the defensive foundations of the team should be as solid as can be expected.

As for the three missing starters, lets start with Jones. Klinsmann will probably bring Kyle Beckerman in to replace him the Real Salt Lake man wont cover as much ground, but hes smart, and always well informed the defenders immediately behind him. If he can help cut out some of the pas lanes to Sergio Agero or Gonzalo Higuain he can do a lot of good. If he could actually tackle Messi at the start of the forwards runs from deep that would also be…an added bonus.

The nearest to a style-for-style replacement for Bedoya would be the hard-working Graham Zusi. The wrinkle here might be if Klinsmann is convinced of the virtues of Matt Besler at left-back. In that case he could pushing Johnson into Bedoyas usual position it sets Johnson where he is most comfortable but he would have to provide support for Besler.

As for Wood, well, its possible we watch Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey up top with Darlington Nagbe and Zusi played as broad humen in a four-man midfield. But a 4-2-3-1 with the midfield anchored by Beckerman and Bradley, may be the most likely, with the question then being who becomes the ill-fitting spearhead up top.

You genuinely want Dempsey arriving late in the box or generating opportunities outside it, and if you want to keep Bradley deeper, then its merely possible that Chris Wondolowskis movement up top can allow Dempsey, Zusi/ Nagbe, and Zardes to do the run behind him. Its a more lightweight attacking formation than US fans would hope for, but when you lose three starters, youre going to be weaker. Klinsmann may as well try and build the best use of his remaining assets in their best positions.

Get after it

One of the criticisms of Klinsmanns reign by fans and indeed some current and former players is that the promised attacking style never materialized. There have been particular games that have illustrated the frustration and this has the potential to be one of them.

After the World Cup, Landon Donovan – who admittedly had something of a vested interest in the ideal of transformative assaulting players – spoke of the annoyance of watching USAs belated attempts to force-out a comeback against Belgium when they were already 2-0 down. Donovan said he wished the shackles had come off sooner against a talented Belgium team who nonetheless were vulnerable to being put over their game by spirited opponent. What he, and numerous other national team players feel is that the team is at their best when they get after it.

And foolish as it might seem to attack Argentina, it will be equally foolish to sit back and hope for penalties. There will be a phase in a tight 90 -minute game where America might be well advised to gamble on assault, but its not when the whistling blows for kick-off.

Theres a cue in how Chile took the game to Argentina in their opening match of the tournament. Chile lost, but ran Argentina close with their high energy press, and some version of the same from Klinsmanns humen might at least keep Messi and Co. honest enough to not be able to fully perpetrate their full-backs in offensive scenarios. This, however, involves intestines. To devote an example from two other teams in the tournament, on the odd occasion when Mexico tried to go toe-to toe with Chile on Saturday night, being second best on every front hurt. Their own full-backs were pinned down, Chile were hungrier to force turnovers, close passing lanes and were faster in transition. And as video games slipped away, Mexicos midfielders were overwhelmed.

Which is just to say that the US could lose heavily whatever approach they try, but the choice does not have to be about preferring your flavor of heroic failing. At this point of the tournament they need to send out a team to try and win the game and not only avoid defeat.

Use replaces well

The format tweaks of the knockout rounds mean that with penalties immediately following 90 minutes, the use of subs provides an opportunity for Klinsmann to be proactive early, and without dread of playing his hand too soon with extra-time still to come.

It can be a marginal advantage, but again thinking about a positive approach, theres the health risks to bring Christian Pulisic off the bench to stretch Argentina, especially in a tight game where the favorites start to worry about the clock and a possible penalty shoot-out.

There wont be many areas of the game where the USA can define the orders of the day, but judicious subs that arent so much like-for-like swaps as shiftings of emphasis that have the potential to alter the rhythm of the game in the Americans favor. And the more uncertainty they can create, the bigger opportunity the government had of Argentina tightening up as the final whistle approaches.

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