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Colombia unrest Camilo Erasso/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Latin American Tinderbox

Buffeted by social unrest, Latin American governments urgently need to revive growth, curb the COVID-19 pandemic, and restore trust in political institutions. Otherwise, the region may experience a revival of populism on both the right and the left, with unpredictable and potentially dangerous consequences.

In this Big Picture, Javier Solana, a former European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and Enrique V. Iglesias, a former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, argue that combating Latin America’s crises will require a new social contract and increased international cooperation. And if the EU does not act quickly to help the region, says former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio, then China will seize the opportunity to strengthen its influence.

In any case, political uncertainty will likely remain high throughout Latin America. Mauricio Cárdenas, a former finance minister of Colombia, cautions that his country’s triple crisis of COVID-19, social tensions, and fiscal strains will further polarize domestic politics. And former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castañeda assesses the far-reaching implications of Cuba’s recent anti-government protests.

Despite the increasing strains in the region, notes Harvard University’s Kenneth Rogoff, financial markets remain unperturbed. But with a sustained economic recovery in doubt, the current calm may be preceding a devastating storm.

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