Jan 2, 2024 - World

Latin America will see major elections and abortion debated this year

Illustration of a map of Mexico, Central and South America on a calendar page.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Major elections and debates about abortion and other contentious issues will likely take center stage in Latin America in 2024.

The big picture: El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele is up for re-election despite the country's constitution technically forbidding it. Meanwhile, Mexico is poised to elect its first woman president, and Panama, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and tentatively Venezuela as well will hold presidential elections.

Details: In El Salvador, a branch of the Supreme Court whose members were largely named by lawmakers from Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party, gave him the go-ahead to run again. Polls show he's likely to win comfortably on Feb. 4.

  • In Panama, 10 candidates will vie for the presidency on May 4. Former President Ricardo Martinelli is the frontrunner, even though his candidacy is somewhat uncertain since he was convicted last year of money laundering committed during his time in office, from 2009 to 2014.
  • The Dominican Republic will hold a first-round presidential vote May 19. President Luis Abinader, who has heavily invested in infrastructure —including a border wall with Haiti — is seeking re-election, and polls show he has enough support to avoid a runoff.

On June 2, Mexicans will likely choose between Claudia Sheinbaum, formerly in charge of Mexico City and a member of the ruling Morena party, and Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator from the opposition coalition Frente por México, as their next president.

  • Uruguay will vote for president in October. So far, the center-left Frente Amplio party is leading in polls, though a newly registered libertarian party akin to the one who got a shock win in neighboring Argentina late last year could be the surprise factor.

Between the lines: Venezuela's presidential elections will tentatively be in the latter half of the year, per an agreement between the regime of President Nicolás Maduro and an opposition coalition.

  • However, international observers and members of the opposition say the spirit of that agreement has already been breached with attempts from Maduro allies to invalidate the primary win of opposition candidate María Corina Machado.
  • Maduro, who has not yet stated outright that he's running for re-election, has been in power since 2015.

Abortion laws will likely be in the spotlight in parts of the region.

  • In Argentina, President Javier Milei came to power last month with promises that include calling a referendum on whether the country's law legalizing abortion should stand.
  • A discussion in Brazil's Supreme Court on whether to decriminalize abortion is ongoing, though it's uncertain when a ruling will come down.
  • El Salvador's anti-abortion laws that have resulted in more than 100 women being imprisoned are being discussed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, with a decision expected this year.
  • The court already ruled against El Salvador's jailing of women who've miscarried in a previous case; this time it will decide if all of the country's anti-abortion laws should stand.

Of note: Death with dignity and euthanasia laws could also be front and center in some countries.

  • Cuba late last month introduced possible regulations for euthanasia based on Colombia's example, while Uruguay's Senate has a pending debate on a right-to-die bill already passed by the lower house.
  • In Peru and Ecuador, courts are debating the cases of two women, one with polio and another with ALS, who are asking to access medically assisted suicide.

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