Inflation, poverty, and rising violent crime continue to plague the landscape of Latin America's post-COVID economic recovery, paving the way for long-shot candidates who are dominating and winning presidential elections this year.
The overwhelming public support for less conventional presidential contenders has rocked the foundation of entrenched political parties and crime syndicates throughout the region, signaling what some say is a departure from more traditional candidates.
In Ecuador, this seismic shift in the "political pendulum" has prompted violent, even deadly reactions.
Despite the celebrated new wave of "pink tide" leadership that began sweeping the region in 2021, economic recovery has been snarled by a lack of visible results amid increasingly desperate populations.
Struggles to pay back foreign debt, depleted currency reserves, and stalled economic growth—especially in Argentina—have compounded this, creating a sobering reality check for existing regimes across the political spectrum.
Mr. Ellis is a Latin America analyst and professor at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.
He said the inability of existing regimes and long-standing political parties to make progress on key issues like creating jobs and corruption has been the last straw for many voters.
Major financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) second this.
While Mr. Ellis says the individual factors that landed political lone wolf candidates on center stage vary per country, they share common threads.
Radical IdeasEven before the pandemic came along with its disastrous lockdowns, millions of Latin Americans lived on barely $2 per day. This is especially pronounced in Guatemala, where poverty and crime have been a decades-long struggle.
Historically, entrenched Latin American political parties have operated more like dynasties than elected governments.
If the leader of a political party is voted out as president, supporters from the same party likely line the halls of congress, ensuring an opposition regime couldn't make changes.
That way, come the next election, the "pendulum" would swing back in favor of the original deposed regime or one with ties to it.
It's a well-established pattern in the region. But this year, voters in Guatemala surprised legislators.
On Aug. 20, a little-known politician named Bernardo Arevalo, head of the center-left Seed Movement party, was declared the winner of Guatemala's second-round runoff presidential election.
The victory came as a shock to Mr. Arevalo's opponent, Sandra Torres, a legacy politician and former first lady.
President-elect Arevalo's campaign focused on implementing a plan to tackle Guatemala's surging drug cartel and crime problem, malnutrition, and national unemployment.
On its face, Mr. Arevalo's approach differs from what many have dubbed the "more free stuff" tactic commonly employed by leftist governments.
But their unconventional choice of leadership may struggle to prove itself.
On Aug. 29 the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ordered the suspension of Mr. Arevalo's political party amid allegations of "irregularities."
The suspension of the Seed Movement party casts doubt on whether Mr. Arevalo's lawmakers can hold positions in congress.
And if that's the case, Guatemala's wild card presidential pick will face the same challenges of dynasty politics as his predecessors.
Cartels Fight BackDrug-related crime and violence are critical in Guatemala.
As part of the northern triangle, the Central American nation occupies a strategic point for U.S.-bound drug and human traffickers.
In South America, the once economically thriving Ecuador struggles to keep its head above water amid the post-pandemic economic fallout.
Widespread penetration of foreign drug cartels, surges in violent crime, and poverty spurred a handful of political outlanders to join the presidential campaign trail this year.
The swift ascent in popularity and tough-on-crime stance of one of these candidates, Fernando Villavicencio, led to his public assassination on Aug. 9 in the capital, Quito.
In the wake of Mr. Villavicencio's shocking murder, police arrested six Colombian nationals with suspected ties to drug cartels.
Fighting against crime syndicates was the foundation of Mr. Villavicencio's campaign.
But criminals are aiming for more than just one Ecuadorian presidential candidate.
One of the candidates in the scheduled October 15 run-off election, Daniel Noboa, witnessed a shooting near his public caravan outside Guayaquil on Aug. 18.
Mr. Noboa reached political stardom after arriving at a televised presidential debate sporting a bulletproof vest. He claims to have received death threats and shares Mr. Villavicencio's views on harsh cartel and criminal crackdowns.
Mr. Noboa's father, Alvaro Noboa, ran an unsuccessful campaign against the former leftist president and convicted criminal Rafael Correa.
Like El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, Mr. Ellis says creating connections through social media and youth are key factors of Mr. Noboa's popularity.
If elected, the 35-year-old politician would be the youngest president in Ecuador's history.
Some of Mr. Noboa's ideas for dealing with criminals are shades of El Salvador's millilenial president. Among these is putting prisoners on floating barges and leaving them anchored off the nation's coast.
Making ConnectionsIt's impossible to talk about inflation in the Americas without mentioning Argentina.
Since the return of the notorious Peronist regime under President Alberto Angel Fernandez in 2019, the South American agricultural giant has fallen into a spiral of rising unemployment, poverty, and inflation that hit 113 percent this year.
The effects of this economic hurricane became prevalent in 2022.
Consequently, three economic ministers came and went last year under the Fernandez administration.
The fourth and current minister of the economy, Sergio Massa, is the Peronist party's hand-picked presidential candidate in the upcoming Oct. 22 general election.
And while Mr. Massa represents a different political party—Union for the Homeland—many Argentinians see Mr. Massa's party as indistinguishable from Peronism and its string of failures.
Then a political dark horse stepped forward and shot straight to the top of the polls: Javier Milei.
Mr. Milei, an economist and relatively obscure member of Argentina's Chamber of Deputies, won the nation's primary election on Aug. 13 and is the front-runner candidate for the October general election.
He's rattled more than a few cages with his conservative yet out-of-the-box approach to Argentina's complex economic issues.
From promises to "dollarize" Argentina to cutting bloated subsidy programs and redefining relationships with Brazil and China, Milei has won as many friends as he has enemies in less than a year.
Mr. Calle contended that Mr. Milei's unorthodox approach to Argentina's economic problems may prove better on paper than in practice.
One of these ideas, and a centerpiece in Mr. Milei's campaign, is "dollarization." This would require replacing all of Argentina's steeply devalued pesos with U.S. dollars.
He also admits that years of "Kirchnerism"—a local term used to describe devotees of the vice president's leftist policies—have left Argentinians fed up with established political parties.
But beyond failed economic policies, Mr. Ellis noted Argentina's conservative outsider candidate has been able to connect with people on a different level. He's inspiring hope.