I have not written on the problems in the region for a while now (last stuff that is more comprehensive here in the talk at Keene, for example), in part, because the whole theme is a bit depressing (more recently the Honduras crisis, and the return of the right in Chile). As I have noted before, there is no doubt that the collapse of commodity prices has played a significant role in the downturn in the region, but it is also true that a lot of the problems are political in nature, and the resurgence of neoliberalism (with the support of the US, btw) has played a significant role too. In my view, the latter is far more relevant.

Two recent issues that I wanted to note, and that prompted my return to the issue of the crisis in the region. One is the downgrading of the Brazilian public debt by Standard & Poor's (I've written on credit rating agencies before here, and on the  previous downgrading of Brazil too). As I noted before, the Brazilian economy didn't face any significant fiscal or external problem. Figure below, from IMF WEO data, shows that the primary balances were actually positive until Dilma decided to cave and do a fiscal adjustment in 2015 (which did not save her from the coup, btw). And the external (current account) deficit was small, and manageable given the humongous external reserves and the great amount of global liquidity.

At any rate, why the new downgrading, you ask. The reason is to force the Brazilian government to push once again for pension reform. The whole point is that the crisis was caused to create the conditions for the dismantling of the old remnants of the very incomplete welfare state, if one can speak of one in Brazil, that survived the neoliberal onslaught of the 1990s under Fernando Henrique Cardoso. One should not minimize the importance of the soft power of US institutions, including the credit rating agencies, and how they can be used to promote certain political agendas.

The other issue is related to Venezuela (see my two previous posts here and here). I noted before that Venezuela's democracy (very problematic one, as I noted, before you complain; read the posts in the links please) is under attack, and that right wingers should not be seen as pushing for democracy against an authoritarian regime. That rhetoric, that still permeates most of the coverage in the US, is simply incorrect. I was somewhat shocked to read the recent op-ed by Ricardo Hausmann asking for military intervention by foreign powers (meaning the US). By the way, this comes from someone with the authority of being a Harvard professor (not that Harvard is supporting the coup, as far as I know). The role of the soft power of US institutions again.

If there were any doubts about their (right wingers that supported the 2002 coup) commitment to democracy I think this clears it up. I'll leave a discussion about the accuracy of the claim that elections have been rigged and the extent of the 'famine' for another post (something old on the latter here). I just wanted to note that here there is that step that is always there in the authoritarian argument about the justification for violence and the removal of the democratic institutions. Unacceptable.