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Demonstrators stand near a large inflatable doll depicting former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during his corruption trial. Photo: Denis Ferreira Netto / AP.

In Latin America, where inequality has been falling for a decade, the growing middle class is facing a crisis of expectations, as wealthier citizens now expect better roads, schools, hospitals and law enforcement. Only 15% of people in the region approve of their political parties, and barely a third think their governments are doing a good job, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Four of the region's largest economies – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico – will pick new leaders in the next year, and anti-establishment candidates are increasingly competitive in all of those races. This is the most unpredictable electoral cycle since the region's transition to democracy three decades ago.

  • Pervasive graft is one key problem, as it depletes the resources needed to build infrastructure, and it makes it harder to contain spiraling crime and violence. It's no coincidence that corruption scandals have erupted across the region, rocking the public's faith in current leaders and opening the way for candidates from outside the political mainstream.
  • Another problem is that the recent economic boom years are over – meaning governments have to make do with less, precisely as their people have come to expect more. That's not an easy circle to square even in the best of times, but plummeting faith in government institutions makes it that much harder.

Look for this trend next in Asia, where hundreds of millions of people joined the middle class in over the past decade. How will their expectations shape the region's democracies? More to the point, how will they shape the region's autocracies? (Looking at the dragon in the room here, yes.)

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Go deeper

Birx: Trump White House could have reduced COVID deaths by 30 to 40%

Deborah Birx, then-coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a news conference in the White House last November. Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deborah Birx, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator under former President Trump, told a House subcommittee this month that the Trump administration could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths during the early stages of the pandemic.

Driving the news: "I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining ... and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30% less to 40% less range," Birx said in closed-door testimony to the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, according to excerpts provided by the panel.

Study: Fear of debt keeps Latinos out of college

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Fear of never being able to pay off school loans is keeping many young Latinos in the U.S. from going to college or completing a degree, according to a report published in September.

State of play: Latinos tend to have more difficulty repaying school debt than white student borrowers, according to Federal Reserve data, at the same time that they need more loans in order to afford tuition.

3 hours ago - World

Scoop: Biden administration objects to Israeli settlements plan

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett (L) meets with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has privately protested to the Israeli government over its plan to approve the planning and construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: The approvals for new homes in the settlements will be the first since President Biden assumed office, and come after Biden and his top aides personally pressed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to restrain settlement activity and decrease the number of new housing units.

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