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Anti-incumbent sentiment has gripped much of Latin America in recent years, swinging electoral results leftward in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras and Brazil, upending the corrupt coalitions that have long ruled Guatemala, and handing the presidency of Argentina to a self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist.” But 2024 may prove to be a good year for establishment politicians. In the five countries with elections on the calendar — El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Mexico — insider candidates are polling ahead, at least so far.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling place in central Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. July 1, 2018. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)
Voters cast their ballots at a polling place in central Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. July 1, 2018. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

Should these polls translate into electoral outcomes, it would be a sign that moderate candidates can still prevail over destabilizing populists, especially in strong democracies with competitive political parties, such as Panama, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. But it could also consolidate authoritarianism in El Salvador and herald a new era of one-party rule in Mexico.

The implications of instability in Latin America on the security of the United States are multifaceted and interconnected. Political and economic instability provide fertile ground for drug trafficking, organized crime and irregular migration, which have serious consequences for U.S. peace and security. Throughout Latin America, the United States relies on cooperation from capable, popular regional governments to check drug trafficking and migration across its southern border.

Two countries without democratically elected governments may also go to the polls in 2024. Elections in Venezuela could provide an opening for democratic change, though the regime’s commitment to a competitive process remains unclear. And an electoral process could begin in Haiti, but with large parts of the country under the control of criminal gangs it may be difficult, if not impossible, to hold credible polls.

USIP’s Latin America experts offer a look ahead at the 2024 election schedule in Latin America.

El Salvador - February 4

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is poised to ride the enormous popularity of his anti-gang crackdown to a landslide victory, consolidating his control over El Salvador’s presidency, the legislature and the courts. His government’s autocratic actions — including the suspension of due process for tens of thousands of detainees, the firing of judges on dubious legal grounds, and his decision to run for president again despite clear constitutional prohibitions on consecutive re-election — have alarmed human and civil rights defenders. But so far, it’s done little to dent his popularity, though that may change if the Bukele government extends his crackdown without addressing the poverty that has long helped fuel gang recruitment.  

Panama - May 5

In Panama, former President Ricardo Martinelli is leading a crowded field despite his conviction on money laundering charges. If Martinelli loses his appeal, however, the election could pit Martín Torrijos, another former president, against Ricardo Lombana, who leads a new centrist political movement focused on austerity and anti-corruption. A controversial Canadian mining contract has emerged as a key issue in the campaign, sparking widespread protests. All leading candidates have backed a recent Supreme Court decision ruling the deal unconstitutional, but the issue could still boost Torrijos and Lombana, both of whom were early critics of the project. 

Dominican Republic - May 19

Incumbent President Luis Abinader, a wealthy businessman who won as an opposition and anti-corruption candidate in 2020, seems likely to prevail again in 2024. The Dominican Republic’s economy remains one of the fastest growing in Latin America and the government’s hardline policies against Haitian migrants are widely popular, though insecurity along the Haitian border could still roil the electoral campaign.

Mexico - June 2

Mexicans are poised to make history by electing a woman as president in the general elections. The two main contenders are Claudia Sheinbaum, a protégée of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Xóchitl Gálvez, who leads an opposition coalition.

Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City, is well ahead in the polls, buoyed by the popularity of Lopez Obrador — better known as AMLO — whose supporters credit his social programs with reducing poverty. Gálvez, an Indigenous leader who rose from poverty to become a tech entrepreneur, has failed to overcome the governing coalition’s lead, despite blasting AMLO for failing to reduce violent crime. Critics accuse the AMLO government of boosting social spending to favor official candidates and of undermining Mexican democracy by weakening the country’s independent electoral authority and the judiciary.

The United States has a huge stake in supporting stable democratic rule in Mexico, which overtook China in 2023 as the largest U.S. trading partner. Despite sometimes tense relations with AMLO — particularly on U.S. policy toward Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — the Biden administration relies on Mexican cooperation to curb drug trafficking and irregular migration across the southwest border.

Uruguay - October 27 (First Round); November 19 (Runoff)

After primaries in April and June, Uruguay will hold presidential and congressional elections, plus a series of referendums on constitutional reforms, in late October. The presidential elections pit the governing center-right Coalición Republicana against the center-left Frente Amplio, the latter of which held the presidency for 15 years until losing to outgoing President Luis LaCalle Pou in 2020. Perceptions of rising crime and a series of corruption scandals under the LaCalle government may continue to boost support for Frente Amplio. The parties will hold primaries in June: Yamandú Orsi, intendant of Canelones department, currently leads in the polls for the Frente Amplio while Álvaro Delgado, former secretary of the presidency, is the favorite for the governing National Party. If no presidential candidate wins more than 50 percent on October 27, there will be a run-off on November 19.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s government and the opposition agreed in October 2023 to hold presidential elections by the end of 2024, raising hopes for a peaceful resolution to the political and economic crisis that has forced millions of Venezuelans to leave their country.

The government, however, has barred Maria Corina Machado, who won the opposition primary, from holding office. Machado is appealing the ban and continues to campaign against President Nicolás Maduro, whose regime is deeply unpopular. If the opposition manages to pull off an electoral victory, a democratic transition will still require further negotiations to ensure national reconciliation and accountability. A credible election would advance three U.S. goals: the restoration of Venezuelan democracy; the reduction of Venezuelan irregular migration, and the re-opening of Venezuelan oil flows into U.S. markets amid a global energy crunch.

Haiti

The political crisis in Haiti grinds on. Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 and the expiration of congressional terms the following year, the country has ceased to have any elected political leaders — although the country could hold elections in 2024 if security conditions improve.

Some Haitian and international observers, including a U.N. special envoy, believe that prompt elections are the only way to reset the country’s political system. Others question whether the country can hold credible elections when gangs control much of the capital and large swaths of the countryside.

Efforts continue to prepare a multinational security mission and broker a political accord to establish a transitional government. That could give the country time to lay the groundwork for a credible electoral process. Though elections in 2024 cannot be ruled out, the process would likely be messy, contested and unlikely to yield a stable government.

Lucila Del Aguila Llausas is a senior program officer with USIP's Latin America program.


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