Once again the Americas jitter under the weight of violence irradiating from all sorts of screens (TVs, IPads, Laptops and Smart Phones). This time however the looting, car burning and brick throwing takes place north of the Rio Grande, close to the US capital, in the city of Baltimore.
Infuriated youngsters took the city by assault burning and destroying everything in their path. They were expressing rage and frustration over the death of Freddy Gray, a young man who died in police custody under what seems to be mistreatment.
The event was all the more frightening, coming on the tail of the new film "Selma" about Dr. Martin Luther King's peaceful crusade for civil rights. Then, too, violence was perpetrated by whites while the black population protested á la Gandhi. Now black youngsters have decided to abandon their elder's pacific procedures and behave like Latin Americans taking justice into their own hands.
The event is troublesome enough taken in isolation. But it is even more so if it is placed in the context of a country that has elected to lead its Executive Power a distinguished black thinker and which guarantees freedom to all its citizens. This puzzling episode is yet another signal that the U.S. can no longer postpone economic redeployment and domestic refurnishing.
The youngsters of Baltimore were expressing above all a deep frustration with the absence of opportunities to improve their lot and that of their children. With a U.S. economy that has been unable to engage into internal restructuring due to 9/11 and its ancillary conflicts, the European reluctance to engage in free trade and China's export frenzy, salaries have failed to deliver on the promise of keeping the Jones within the middle class ranks.
And this is happening at a time when the top echelon of the income scale has made enough money to bid for the Kremlin's Diamond Reserve. Lest you are properly educated, sudden wealth leads to excesses and tacky consumption. Conspicuous departures from social demeanor matching protestant ethics hurt people who have to struggle over three jobs to make ends meet.
And while Americans are law abiding people, brutality and injustice can spark the flame of hatred. Emmanuel Kant alerted us of the complexities of leading humanity to stability and prosperity when he observed "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."
U.S. leaders most probably are giving thought to this warning. To return the faith of the protesters in the virtues of their democracy and the bountiful promise of rule of law will take time, effort and concentration on the domestic agenda. And this cannot be done while intervening on every single conflict that erupts in a world in transition between geopolitical stages.
For Latin America, the Baltimore riots should spell caution -- and not just because Fox News inadvertently posted a riot photo that was actually from Venezuela, not Baltimore! With the commodity boom well over, China growing at an unusually low rate of 6%, Europe going backwards and U.S. growth sputtering, Latin American economies will not see another season of growth lest reforms are undertaken . . . and soon.
Mexico led the way with the Pena Nieto reform agenda -- but it is not producing political dividends. Quite the contrary, the Mexican head of State is virtually assailed by all groups and interests in the Mexican society. Unions; oligopolistic businessmen; the remains of the Marxist left and some groups within PRI have led a concerted attack on the president aiming at reducing the impact of the Constitutional reforms through regulatory paths.
In Chile president Bachelet has tried to spearhead reforms and is feeling the pain in her falling popularity.
Santos seems to swing back and forth in the field of structural reforms perhaps frightened by the little support Colombians are giving to the peace negotiations with FARC.
In brief, the region seems to be looking for a Good Shepard that can guide it through this period of uncertainty when citizens demand effective government while leaders refuse to engage in any subject without reading opinion polls.
As a result, countries are not led but entertained by their chief executives and they are beginning to find the scripts a bit bland. Should these poll children continue to be elected, citizens will most probably retrench into City Halls. Over the long run this will give stronger foundations to Latin American democracies. And unexpected turn in the development of this crooked twig that is democracy!!
Also by Beatrice Rangel in her Latin America from 35,000 Feet series
Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.