Indeed, local problems are likely to increase regional tensions. Last year, Chile and Peru faced off over their maritime borders. In Bolivia, there are mounting revanchist pressures for recovering sea access, which was lost to Chile in the 19th century, and to use gas exports as a pressure point. The dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over navigation on the San Juan River, and the heated jurisdictional arguments between Colombia and Venezuela, also act to raise regional tempers.
All these tensions pose the threat of a new arms race at a time when the region's worst problems are poverty, inequality, and the marginalization of indigenous people. If these problems are ignored, destabilization will undoubtedly grow.
Finally, massive migration is contributing to the region's anxieties. The problem is not just illegal migration to the US. Migration, triggered by dire economic conditions and, especially in the past, large-scale violence is also occurring between Latin American countries. Maintaining a peaceful movement of people will pose a serious challenge to the region's leaders in the months and years ahead.
Throughout Latin America, if poverty and violence are not ameliorated, tensions are bound to grow.
The region is truly at a crossroads: this year may well determine whether it lapses back into the sad days of the chaotic past or finds a new maturity to strike out in conditions of liberty and democracy and take on its own path to growth and stability.
Raul Alfonsin was Argentina's first democratically elected president following the fall of the country's military dictatorship.
Copyright: Project Syndicate