Just a few years ago, Latin America was on a roll. Its economies, riding on the back of the Chinese juggernaut, were flourishing. A boom in commodity prices and huge volumes of foreign direct investment in agriculture and natural resources generated a golden decade. Ambitious government programs began to reduce inequality. And relations with the United States, long a source of friction, were improving—even as they became less important to the region’s success.
Today the picture looks very different. Latin America’s economies are grinding to a halt: in 2015, average GDP growth slipped below one percent. Inequality is still declining, but more slowly. And according to the annual Latinobarómetro poll, satisfaction with democracy in Latin America is lower than it is in any other region and is at its lowest point in almost a decade, at 37 percent. In Brazil and Mexico, it has descended to just 21 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Yet on one count at least, the lands south of the Rio Grande are faring better than ever: Latin Americans are denouncing corruption as never before. In decades past, residents of the region seemed resigned to the problem, treating it as an ordinary, if lamentable, part of everyday life. In 1973, for example, Argentines elected Juan Perón to a third term as president despite his infamous criminality; as a popular saying put it, “Mujeriego y ladrón, pero queremos a Perón” (Philanderer and thief, we still want Perón).
Such tolerance is now a thing of the past. According to the same Latinobarómetro poll, the region’s inhabitants identify corruption as their third most important problem, behind crime and unemployment but above inflation and poverty. Latin Americans have also started judging their politicians based on their perceived trustworthiness. Of the five most unpopular chief executives in Latin America today—Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Paraguay’s Horacio Cartes, Peru’s Ollanta Humala, and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro—three come from
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