Crime, weak economies and corruption are pushing Latin Americans to move abroad. Among them are citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala who are emigrating en masse. They are fed up with poverty and violence, and people-smugglers have become adept at transporting them.
This exodus is the main reason why in the past year officers at the United States’ southern border have detained more people trying to cross than in any 12-month period since 2009, The Economist reports.
Venezuela and Central America are uniquely troubled. However, their citizens’ desire to get out is increasingly common. Gallup, a pollster, asks people in 120 countries each year if they want to emigrate. From 2010 to 2018 the share that said “yes” rose in 15 of the 19 Latin American nations it tracks. In 2010, 19% of people in the region hoped to move abroad permanently, the same as in Europe. Now 31% do, as many as in the Middle East and Africa.
Many are afraid of being killed. In Brazil murders hit a record high of 63,880 in 2017, following a resurgence of fighting between criminal gangs; the share of citizens who wish to emigrate has tripled to 33%. The country’s homicide rate is now roughly level with Colombia’s—where it fell as the government’s war with the FARC guerrillas wound down, but could pick up again if some fighters’ recent decision to abandon the peace accord of 2016 causes a return to war (see Americas section).
In countries where crime has not risen, economic doldrums have been the main driver of discontent.
In 2010 Latin America’s GDP grew by 6%, well above the global average. By 2016 it was shrinking, due to recessions in Brazil and Argentina—the latter of which imposed capital controls this week.
In Mexico, the region’s second-biggest country, the economy has plodded along with low productivity growth and little social mobility.
Another thing making Latin America less liveable is corruption. The region is grubbier than you would expect, given its relative affluence.
In Brazil, the Lava Jato investigation has exposed bribes paid by industrial firms to scores of politicians. Alan García, a former president of Peru, killed himself in April to avoid arrest in conjunction with the Brazilian scandal. According to Latinobarómetro, an annual survey, the share of Latin Americans dissatisfied with how democracy works in their country has risen from 52% in 2010 to 71% last year.
Latin Americans are not just voting with their feet; they are venting at the ballot box, too.
In 2018 messianic populists who railed against corruption and crime won presidential elections in Brazil (the conservative Jair Bolsonaro) and Mexico (the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador).
If voters remain this disenchanted, more leaders with autocratic streaks are likely to follow.
Sources: Gallup; Latinobarómetro; IMF; World Bank; US Customs and Border Patrol; UNODC; IoM; UNHCR