from Spain and Portugal in the 19th century, during and after the Napoleonic wars. A large number of new countries emerged, their creation engendered by local interests and “oligarchs” of the day. All European powers had claims on the islands of the Caribbean. Some of them remain domains of European countries or the United States.
Like North America and Africa, the region is richly endowed in natural resources, water and agricultural land.
Inefficient governance systems and a lack of fiscal discipline are problems haunting most countries in the region. These weaknesses lead to political instability, abrupt regime changes and corruption.
Aside from natural resources, the region’s chief assets include its climatic variety and easy access to the oceans. The area has avoided participation in major wars due to its geographic distance from the world’s hot spots.
As President Evo Morales gears up to run for an unconstitutional fourth term, Bolivian politics enter a pivotal year. The last successful member of Latin America’s “pink wave” of leftist governments that rose to power on the commodities boom of the early 2000s must now deal with slumping hydrocarbon revenues and a disillusioned public. Mr. Morales may win a fair election in October, but the big question is whether he will seek to stay in office if he loses.
Midway through his term, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera is facing resistance to his agenda from a hostile congress. His clumsy handling of several domestic crises has not helped his government gain traction. The economy is doing well, though, fueled by copper exports. But that poses a danger as well – a prolonged U.S.-China trade war could catch Chile in the crossfire.
Ivan Duque, in office since August 2018, has a thankless job as president of Colombia. The ruling coalition is frail. The historic 2016 accord to end the country’s 50 year-long civil war has proven difficult to implement and controversial to most citizens. The problem of millions of people displaced and disenfranchised in that war is compounded by waves of new refugees arriving from Venezuela. And a rise in coca cultivation displeases Washington. Signals from the country’s resilient economy, however, remain positive.
Panama has become a big focus for China – the two countries signed 19 cooperation agreements at the end of last year. For Panama, the partnership is an attempt to revive its economy. For China, it is a chance to gain influence over the crucial Panama Canal. The question is how Panama’s new government will balance its appetite for Chinese investment with its need to maintain close ties with the United States.