When mass protests forced Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno to reverse course on a cut to fuel subsidies last month, most Brazilian political risk analysts interpreted the crisis as a country-specific event.
An outbreak of protests in Bolivia the following week was seen as another isolated incident among Brazilians. Despite other recent protests in Peru, Honduras and Haiti, few observers in Brazil believed such events would have broader implications for the region.
That notion changed when protests in Chile led to a social upheaval of a size and intensity unseen since the country’s return to democracy thirty years ago. When President Sebastián Piñera- fighting for political survival- put his pro-business agenda on pause and replaced his minister of finance and increased minimum wage and pensions, Brazilian analysts began scrambling to assess whether something bigger could be forthcoming. Questions arose if protests could spread to Brazil and cause Bolsonaro’s government to rethink one of the region’s few remaining “unabashedly neoliberal agendas” (America’s Quarterly
Prior to recent events, the vast majority of Brazilian investors, supportive of economic reforms led by Finance Minister Paulo Guedes, considered Chile to be a model to follow. Chileans’ mass social mobilization against inequality and insufficient public services raised uncomfortable questions about the political feasibility of Guedes’ reform proposals.
The recent outbreak of protests in Colombia has not helped to alleviate these concerns. Political instability across the region has strengthened those in the Bolsonaro administration who want to delay the announcement of Guedes’ additional reform projects, fearing they could trigger a public backlash similar to those seen elsewhere.
“Given these fears – and uncertainty over the possible public reaction to proposed reforms – Guedes is unlikely to be able to push through his plans at the speed he initially envisaged.”
According to America’s Quarterly
, in defending a more assertive approach to reform, Guedes is likely to point out several reasons why it would be simplistic to expect recent unrest elsewhere in the region to spread to Brazil.
“The protesters’ key strength may lie in their leaderless format, which makes it nearly impossible for governments to negotiate with representatives and then lull them into largely symbolic compromises. This may explain why most protest movements do not allow opposition leaders to speak on their behalf – even though some, such as Colombia’s Gustavo Petro, have tried – and why ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s recent release from prison is unlikely to affect chances of mass protest spreading to Brazil.”
As long as protests in other Latin American countries succeed and produce palpable benefits, the risk of them spreading to other countries, including Brazil, remains relatively high.