Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Decision 2014: Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay

By Blake MichaelPublished November 9, 2014

null
With most Americans focused on the Midterms, it's easy to forget that 2014 is an election year elsewhere in the Americas. This year, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay hosted presidential elections in an election cycle which could shape the face of Latin American politics over the course of the next half-decade.
By Blake Michael, 11/09/14

With most Americans focused on the fallout from the Midterms, it's easy to forget that 2014 is an election year elsewhere in the Americas. This year, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay will host presidential elections in an election cycle which could shape the face of Latin American politics over the course of the next half-decade.

In many parts of Central America, elections have meant upheaval in a region which has seen an upswing in gang-related violence over the past five years. In two of the region's richest countries- Costa Rica and Panama- this cycle has favored change over continuity. 

In Costa Rica, a third party candidate has won the presidential election for the third time in 44 years. Luis Guillermo Solís, the president-elect, won the election with 77.8% of the votes, triumphantly declaring to supporters that "No longer will corruption live in our country." 

In Panama, the former Vice-President claimed victory in May but did so without the support of outgoing President Martinelli, who had chosen to endorse Jose Domingo Arias. Many in the Central American nation critiqued the lame-duck president for supporting Mr. Arias, who chose President Martinelli's wife as his running mate.

In both Panama and Costa Rica, the victory of a non-establishment candidate over the current president's hand-selected successor was a clear indicator that the electorate was not ready to bestow proxy-leadership to the incumbent. Economic and social policy aside, the transition from ruling to opposition party control has prevented the creation of a political monopoly and ensured that the status quo will be greeted with robust contestation over the coming years. 

South American nations were much less kind to opposition candidates in 2014. Of the four presidential elections on the continent in 2014, three reelected their president and one was forced into a runoff. 

Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos won reelection in June with over 51% of the vote, largely due to voter confidence in his ability to end the ongoing conflict with FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia- The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) rebels. President Santos addressed a crowd of supporters following the election, saying "This is the moment to come together around the supreme purpose of any nation: peace." Many in the group had written the word "paz," Spanish for peace, on their palms in a sign of solidarity with the president.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also claimed reelection in October, claiming a parallel 51% of the electorate. This election was one of the closest in recent years due to claims that President Rousseff, a member of the Workers' Party and a self-declared champion for the poor,  was wrong to appropriate vast sums of money to prepare Brazil for the 2014 World Cup while millions continue to live in poverty.

Likewise, Bolivian President Evo Morales won a third term with 61% of the vote in October. President Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, has received immense international criticism for his refusal to crack down on cocoa plant production. The coca plant, an extremely important agricultural crop in Bolivia, includes among its many uses the production of cocaine. President Morales was able to run in this election due to a technicality which prevented him from being constitutionally barred from a third term.

In Uruguay, a runoff election has been announced for November 30 after President Jose Mujica's endorsed candidate, Tabare Vasquez, failed to pass the 50% benchmark required to claim a victory. Vasquez managed to win 46% against conservative candidates Luis Lacalle Pou (National Party) and Pedro Bordaberry (Colorado Party). Pou won 30% of the electorate and has received the endorsement of Bordaberry, who failed to win enough support to qualify for the runoff. 

Perhaps understandably, these victories will likely serve as a mandate for the continuation of the incumbents' policies across South America. However, regardless of how reelection is interpreted in each of these nations, it may be difficult to separate the extent to which the 2014 electoral cycle was a referendum on the incumbent domestic and economic policies or on the incumbents themselves. South American presidents often command tremendous personal clout and rule vis-à-vis a cult of personality, thereby making any conclusions from their reelection tremendously difficult.