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Opinion: Latin American Spring? No thanks!

From Cuba to Argentina, Latin America has had a year marked by upheaval. But it’s still far from certain whether all the expectations of positive change are justified. DW’s Uta Thofern advises caution.

It was a year of hope for Latin America - especially compared to other regions of the world. The thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, the rapid progress in the Colombian peace process and the amazing transformations in the wake of peaceful elections in Argentina, Venezuela and Guatemala - these are all developments that are absolutely positive. Even the seemingly endless series of corruption cases in Brazil has its good side: it shows that an independent judiciary is actually doing its job.

But the fact that some analysts are hailing "the end of 21st century socialism" or even a "Latin American Spring" is not just premature; it's completely misguided. No one should wish any kind of "spring" on a region - that much should be clear from looking at events in other parts of the world. No, it is autumn that's coming to Latin America, and that's a good thing. What the political climate urgently needs now is a cooler season.

Change in Venezuela still far from secure

Take Venezuela for example: the left-wing populist government suffered a heavy defeat in the parliamentary elections. It's practically a miracle that the elections were held peacefully and that the president accepted the result. But there is still no real change for the better. The propaganda machine has started up again, and President Maduro is already trying to restrict the new parliament's scope, calling for people to stand up against the victorious "fascists."

Some members of the heterogeneous opposition alliance can't seem to stop bragging. As the first goal of their two-thirds majority, they are calling to topple the president. At the same time, it's perfectly clear that the opposition owes its victory mainly to the catastrophic economic decline of the oil-rich country. Without painful reforms and compromise with the large (not to mention armed!) camp of the Chavistas, Venezuela will not recover from this decline.

Argentina also in need of compromise

There's a similar situation in Argentina, except that the country's new, conservative President Macri must come to terms with a left-wing populist majority in parliament.

He, too, will have to make compromises in order to turn Argentina back into a competitive country and end its economic misery. The liberalization of foreign currency exchange and the elimination of export barriers were right decisions, but the devaluation of the peso was swift to follow. Many Argentines will initially find themselves worse off after this shock therapy; social programs financed by the boom in raw commodities will not result in self-supporting prosperity overnight. This phase cannot be overcome by going on confrontation course with a strong opposition.

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DW's Uta Thofern

In Guatemala, President Morales was elected more out of protest against excessive corruption than support for the television comedian, who still hasn't managed to form a cabinet. The anti-corruption movement has announced a new wave of protests starting in January.

And Cuba? The number of arbitrary arrests has been increasing each month since the thaw in relations with the United States, and the Castro brothers are not planning to implement real political change. Economic transformation is also proving painful.

More and more Cubans have been leaving the island, as long as US laws continue to grant them special immigration status; they've triggered a mid-size refugee crisis in Central America.

Hope for Colombia

Colombia offers the most grounds for hope, because President Santos appears to have mastered the balance between making concessions to the FARC guerrillas and cracking down hard on them. The country is also profiting from a favorable economic climate. If the bilateral ceasefire expected in January holds, Colombia could become a model of how to overcome decades of civil war. That's if there's no fresh wind fueling the smear campaign by those opposed to the peace process, so that Santos can win the final referendum.

There are a lot of ifs standing between the hope that has sprouted in Latin America and its fruition. Civil society has sent clear signals, and voters have demonstrated not only courage, but also reason and a desire for peace. Now, they need patience and self-reliance, as well as understanding for the fact that political processes cannot be implemented as quickly as a hashtag can be invented. The region also needs politicians who can put the welfare of their country above party politics, who behave with caution instead of aggression, and who value compromise more than winning. After overcoming dictatorships, Latin American democracies have passed another test. But the struggle to end political polarization is ongoing. It's a pity that Europe is currently providing such a poor example when it comes to the ability to reach consensus.

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