The past twelve months have seen several major changes in Latin America, as 2022 brought elections, scandals and one major sporting triumph.
The political left has continued to shake up governments across the region, with some experts calling the trend a new “pink tide.” Colombia elected its first left-wing leader, and in neighboring Brazil, former union leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva defeated far-right incumbent Jairus Bolsonaro to become the country’s next president.
Meanwhile, numerous crises have continued, with Haiti further insecure and El Salvador accused of widespread human rights abuses in its crackdown on deadly gang violence.
The sporting world ended the year on at least one positive note, with Argentina winning the World Cup championship, the first time in 20 years that a Latin American team has brought home the trophy.
Here are the stories that defined 2022:
Lula beats Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election
Hailed as the “phoenix” of his party, Lula experienced a remarkable reversal of fortune in 2022, securing a narrow victory in Brazil’s second round of elections against right-wing incumbent President Bolsonaro.
The election comes just over a year and a half after a Brazilian Supreme Court judge dropped all corruption charges against Lula, who spent 580 days in prison.
The leftist leader, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2011, promised to be the antidote to Trump’s Bolsonaro, running on a platform of economic and social justice in response to Brazil’s widespread inequality and poverty.
During an alarming reception at the United Nations’ COP27 climate conference in Egypt, Lula also pledged to reaffirm Brazil, home to large swathes of the Amazon rainforest, as a world leader in environmental protection. He is scheduled to be inaugurated on January 1.
Haiti’s crisis deepens
Haiti’s overlapping crises have only escalated over the past year, with the country’s top diplomat openly calling for controversial foreign intervention in the US.
After the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, armed gangs have taken control of much of the country.
In November, Ulrika Richardson, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the country, told reporters that gangs use sexual violence to “instill fear and punish and terrorize the local population.” She estimated that 60 percent of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has fallen under gang rule.
Insecurity has hampered the delivery of aid to the country, where according to the World Food Program, half the population faces acute food insecurity and where cholera cases have increased at the end of the year.
Chile says no to the new constitution
It was the incremental overhaul that wasn’t.
The proposed constitution, backed by left-wing President Gabriel Boric, would have replaced the current charter, adopted under military dictator Augusto Pinochet, with a document that places greater emphasis on social rights, the environment and gender equality.
But Chileans overwhelmingly rejected the new charter in September, with 61.9% voting against adoption and 38.1% voting in favor.
While many support the concept of a new constitution, critics said the September proposal lacked a clear structure and overreached in key areas. In December, lawmakers from both the left and right sides of the country agreed to begin drafting another attempt.
Impeachment of the president of Peru, arrested
In a series of events on December 7, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo tried to dismiss Congress, was impeached and put behind bars.
All this happened in just a few hours, with the swearing in of Castillo’s former vice president, Dina Boluarte, to the top job. In the process, Boluarte became Peru’s first female president.
Unrest among Castillo’s supporters quickly escalated, leading to protests and more than 20 deaths in clashes with the police and military.
To diffuse the tension, Boluarte appealed to the Peruvian Congress to postpone the general elections from 2026 to 2023. An initial attempt was made to get enough votes in the legislature, but on December 20, the opposition-led Congress tentatively approved a constitutional reform that would make it possible to go ahead with the election. The plan still needs to be ratified by a two-thirds majority.
Deadliest year for Mexican journalists in decades
At least 15 media workers were killed in Mexico in 2022, making it the deadliest year for journalists in three decades, according to an Associated Press tally.
Mexico was second only to war-torn Ukraine in the number of journalists killed in the year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with observers pointing to the role of criminal gangs, the complicity of local officials and government inaction. .
In December, the violence was punctuated by a brazen attack on Ciro Gomez Leiva, one of Mexico’s most prominent radio and television reporters, CPJ reports. He survived the attack in Mexico City thanks to the armor of his vehicle.
Argentina wins the World Cup
“I’m Argentinian! It’s a feeling I can’t control,” chanted revelers in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires, after superstar Lionel Messi’s national team beat France to win the World Cup, international soccer’s biggest event.
It was the first time since 1986 that Argentina had received the World Cup trophy, and the first time in decades that a Latin American team had triumphed in the final.
Fans wearing the colors of Argentina’s blue and white flag descended on Qatar, this year’s World Cup host, underscoring the team’s unique international reach.
But 23-year-old French forward Kylian Mbappe almost won the championship with a Hercules hat-trick in the dying minutes of the match.
With France and Argentina tied with three goals each, the tournament champion was crowned by penalty kicks. But the trophy eventually ended up in a house built by Argentine football legend Diego Maradona.
Colombia elects first leftist leader
The leftward trend in Latin America continued with Gustavo Petro’s presidential victory in Colombia in June.
Petro, a former rebel fighter who led a platform of sweeping social and economic change, became the first left-wing president in a country long shunned by the left because of its ties to years of armed conflict.
Meanwhile, Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, became the country’s first Afro-Colombian vice president.
El Salvador’s gang crackdown
In early December, residents of Sojapango, a densely populated municipality on the outskirts of San Salvador, roused 10,000 police and military personnel into the streets.
It was the latest step in President Naib Bukele’s crackdown on the controversial gang. In March, the government imposed a state of emergency that suspended some civil liberties and led to the mass incarceration of nearly 60,000 Salvadorans.
Rights groups have documented a range of abuses since the crackdown began, including due process violations, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody.
Argentina’s VP survives assassination attempt
The shocking video in September shows a man pointing a gun at the head of Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner outside her home in Buenos Aires.
The gunman pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Fernandez de Kirchner, who was under investigation for corruption at the time, survived unscathed. Meanwhile, the attacker was detained.
In early December, Fernandez de Kirchner was sentenced to six years in prison on charges that she fraudulently awarded public works contracts to a family friend in Patagonia, the stronghold of her political career.
She remains in office and has said she plans to appeal the conviction.
Increase in Darien Gap Crossings
Panama’s National Migration Service announced in October that 151,582 migrants and refugees had crossed the Darien Gap, an inhospitable stretch of mountain jungle between Colombia and Panama, since January.
This number set a new record, surpassing the 133,726 crossings recorded in 2021, and the increase is due to the economic effects of COVID-19 and the increase in the number of people leaving Venezuela.
The 106 km (66 mi) trek can take more than a week, with many going to the US border. There, they often faced deportation under Section 42, a policy used under former US President Donald Trump that allows border agents to turn away most people crossing the border as a precaution against COVID-19.
In mid-December, it was determined that Section 42 would expire. But at the request of mostly Republican lawmakers, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether states can challenge ending the policy. It will remain in place until at least February, when the case is scheduled.