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America's Summer of Discontent

Wherever one looks across the hemisphere, it seems there is nothing but bad news worthy of a Shakespearan tragedy. All the more reason to salute the generous community of '#ElPasoStrong.'
John Feeley was US Ambassador to Panama and is a Univision political analyst.
Venezuelans cross the International Simon Bolivar bridge into Cucuta, Colombia. Crédito: AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

"Now is the winter of our discontent" – William Shakespeare

Since Shakespeare first wrote about the villainous King Richard lll, this opening line has been interpreted as a statement of self-loathing, disappointment and despair. As we assess the past few months of political and social developments throughout the Americas, it is easy to conclude that we are living a summer of discontent.

In Venezuela’s never-ending implosion, the dictatorial Maduro regime appears to have re-consolidated rule since the April 30 th call by the constitutional president, Juan Guaido, for peaceful protests to dislodge the chavistas. Although supported by over 50 nations, Guaido’s democratic fortunes appear tenuous despite a scathing recent United Nations human rights report. The brazen, extrajudicial killing of a dissident military officer in July underscored the report’s condemnation.

Food and medicine became even more scarce and the government can no longer provide basic services. The nation’s agricultural sector cannot remotely sustain the population’s basic dietary requirements. The UN’s refugee agency now estimates that 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Most Venezuelans are beyond discontent and survive in daily state of despair.

While Venezuelans suffer a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, a recent primary election in Argentina resulted in a severe blow to President Macri’s centrist government and the nation’s emerging economy. Fed up with his austerity measures, Argentines re-embraced formerly discredited President Cristina Fernandez (2007-15) and her populist, statist economic platform. The peso immediately plunged 15 percent against the dollar and the stock market crashed by 30 percent.

Bond yields jumped and capital fled, setting the stage for Argentina to repeat an impoverishing chapter of its history. Some even speak of a possible default on a $57 billion dollar line of credit negotiated with the International Monetary Fund if Alberto Fernandez and his vice presidential candidate, current senator Cristina Fernandez (no relation), capture the presidency in October.

Socio-economic conditions in Guatemala and Honduras showed no signs of improvement. Roughly 60 percent of their populations live in poverty. Gang violence is rampant. A coffee fungus has devastated crops, eliminating subsistence-level jobs for many who now join emigration caravans. Honduran President Hernandez, long touted as a strong counter narcotics ally of the United States, was recently implicated in his brother’s drug trafficking trial in New York.

Next door in Guatemala, few were enthused by the August election of Alejandro Giammattei to govern the region’s top source of desperate migrants. The nation saw the lowest voter participation rates since the end of Guatemala’s civil war in 1995, which undercuts any notion of democratic progress. Most fear a continuation of the crony capitalism that tolerates a dysfunctional judiciary, impunity for the well-heeled, and promotes the impending departure of a Guatemalan-UN anti-impunity commission that served as the country’s most respected judicial institution since it’s 2006 founding. It is set to be shuttered in September 2019, and the United States remains mum on the subject.

The tale of discontent goes on. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega continued to court Iran, savagely attacked the free press, held political prisoners and stalled genuine negotiations with the Civic Alliance. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro praised a deceased army torturer as a national hero. His recent suggested solution to Brazil’s catastrophic Amazonian deforestation is that Brazilians should eat less and go to the bathroom on alternating days.

A brief burst of democratic optimism did occur in Puerto Rico this summer, where a governor was forced to leave office following peaceful citizen protests by Puerto Ricans of all political and socio-economic stripes. Disgusted by the revelation of a profane and repugnant chat group that included Governor Rosello and his inner circle, the island’s tragically considered second-class Americans but first-rate democratic patriots expressed their refusal to accept sub-par, corrupt governance. But Puerto Rico’s leadership discontent remains far from over. Divided, scarred and weakened, its reluctant governor and her cabinet face a decidedly unfriendly and uncooperative Trump administration. Its brain drain continues, as does its decade-long recession.

Beyond Latin Americans, Americans watched in June as the Trump Administration first eliminated roughly $550 million in appropriated foreign assistance for Central America to fight the root causes of migration. In a segue that could only be described as a death blow, executive agencies will reportedly slash $4.3 billion in global aid but preserve pet programs championed by Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence. Increased ICE raids resulted in thousands of gut-wrenching family separations among undocumented, overwhelmingly Hispanic communities. A proposed new federal rule to redefine “public charge” now threatens to disqualify legal residency and citizenship applicants who are less affluent … and Caucasian. Through it all, the President’s Twitter account stokes racial division to the point of directing Israel to reject the visit of two American Muslim legislators.

And then, El Paso. The shooter’s anti-Hispanic screed outlined his racial hatred for immigrants in language often used by the President and his supporters to hype a non-existent cultural threat to the American way of life. Yet if El Paso’s anguish marked a nadir in this nation’s waves of self-doubt, the #ElPasoStrong, majority Mexican heritage community gave us hope, and showed us true generosity and resilience in the face of despair and discontent. These brave border denizens united. Together they rejected the intolerance of Trump’s worldview regarding American diversity. They mourned and buried their dead and vowed to heal together. And when one of their victims, newly widowed Tony Basco, feared few would attend his deceased wife’s funeral, thousands showed up stating collectively “we are ALL family.”

Indeed. A reason to still hope in our summer of discontent. Gracias El Paso.