Latin American Elections in 2018, Part II: Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela

This is the second installment in a two-part series. For the first part, click here.


Colombia’s political landscape is ripe for drastic change. The legislative elections in Colombia, held in March 2018, were a major loss for outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos and his Social Party of National Unity coalition, which fell apart. The presidential primary, also held in March, was another major loss for President Santos, due to the elevation of powerful voices critical of the FARC peace deal. Ivan Duque, of the Álvaro Uribe-led Democratic Center party, won the right-wing coalition’s nomination for the presidency; he and ex-president Uribe are both vocal critics of the peace deal. Duque’s biggest competition heading into the May presidential election is frontrunner Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla with the M-19 insurgency group, former mayor of Bogotá, and now an anti-corruption, anti-establishment candidate trying to raise taxes on the rich.

The fractured legislature, split between multiple parties with no clear victor, casts doubt on whether the Colombian government will follow up on the promises it made to FARC and other leftist rebel groups to end decades of conflict. The presidential election this May will see two right-wing candidates, Duque and the Radical Change party’s candidate, German Vargas Lleras, split the votes of anti-deal voters. The pro-deal vote will be split among Petro, ex-mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo, and chief negotiator of the FARC deal Humberto de la Calle.

In Santos’ last year of the presidency, he fulfilled less than 20% of the agreement’s promises, leaving behind many of the ambitious tenets of the agreement. A right-wing president may allow these parts of the deal to go unfulfilled, which may lead FARC to quit the deal as a result of its poor legislative showing — pro-FARC voices will remain absent in policymaking bodies. FARC received less than 0.5% of the legislative votes cast, meaning the party will only receive their peace-deal-mandated 10 seats (five out of 102 in the upper house, five out of 166 in the lower house).


Following the trend of change, Mexico is poised to elect a progressive reformer as president. In July, Mexico will elect a new president to serve for one six-year term, along with 500 new members of the Chamber of Deputies and 128 Senators. The frontrunner in the election is the reformer Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO. The widely popular former mayor of Mexico City, representing his new National Regeneration Movement party (MORENA), holds a double-digit lead over his competitors, José Antonio Meade of the centrist PRI and Ricardo Anaya Cortés of an unlikely coalition representing the center-right PAN and center-left PRD. Antonio Meade is burdened by the incumbent PRI president, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose extremely unpopularity is due to a string of gaffes and scandals and his perceived ineptitude in dealing with the nation’s problems.

Although many American political analysts have attempted to pigeonhole AMLO as an anti-establishment, anti-American populist in the mold of former Venezuelan or Cuban leaders, this is not the case. AMLO is a pragmatic reformer who is fiercely anti-Donald Trump but stands in solidarity with the U.S. Immediately after Trump’s inauguration, AMLO visited twelve major U.S. cities to express support for their Latino diaspora, and he frequently communicates with the U.S. through American institutions, ending speeches by quoting FDR and penning opinions in the Washington Post. If AMLO is elected, the greatest implications for the U.S. will be a strong anti-Trump, anti-wall voice in Los Pinos and another president in North America seeking to renegotiate NAFTA.


In Venezuela, an unpopular regime will probably retain its hold on the country during the presidential elections in May due to an opposition boycott. Incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was projected to win with less than a third of the popular vote, roughly in line with his popularity, but the state election apparatus left nothing to chance, cracking down on the fractured opposition candidates. The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), was split among several candidates, the three largest being Henry Ramos Allup (Democratic Action), Henrique Capriles (of Justice First), and Leopoldo López (Popular Will). Capriles is barred from participating in politics on trumped up charges, and López is under house arrest. Because of these actions, MUD is officially boycotting the upcoming elections, so Ramos Allup is no longer a candidate. Maduro’s only opposition now is Javier Bertucci, a little-known evangelical preacher.

If Maduro and the PSUV steal this election and attempt more of the same to cure Venezuela’s economic ills, Venezuelans will continue to grow angrier with Maduro and the ruling socialists. If in future elections Venezuelans are unable to express their wishes through electoral democracy, they may rise up and topple their government, which will have destabilizing effects on the region.



Author: Parth Kotak

Parth Kotak serves as The Compass’s managing editor and is a double major in International Affairs and Economics. In addition to his duties for The Compass, Parth interns at the U.S. Department of Justice and also serves as blog editor for The Hatchet, the George Washington University’s independent student newspaper and as editor-at-large for The GW Justice Journal, an undergraduate law and policy blog. Parth’s interests include the political economy of developing nations, financial markets, and regulatory law. His views, of course, are his own.