Say what you may of our region’s political populism and struggling finances, Latin Americans ended 2022 thinking only of football. First was the high note — Messi winning the World Cup, for Argentina, for all of us. Next was the sentimental note — the passing of the most creative and famous footballer of them all, Pelé. Latin America stands on no one’s shoulders when it comes to the beautiful game, having won 10 out of 22 world cup championships since 1930. But what if Latin America assembled a football team of its political leaders: who would play? How would they fare?
GOALTENDER — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
69, going on 94, AMLO mumbles incoherently each morning through his Mañaneras (morning press conferences), viewed by millions, heard by none — like a goaltender shouting at his teammates, indecipherably above the din of the noisy reality on the pitch. Despite his unimpressive game skills, few shots seem to get by AMLO for he remains inexplicably popular, even effective, leading a country blessed by geopolitics and a competent central bank that he has yet to dismantle.
RIGHT DEFENDER — Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso
He began his presidential term as a right forward, lightening quick out of the gate with an impressive first 100 days, leading the world’s bond markets for over six months. But the ugly trenches of Ecuadorian politics tore down his popularity and Lasso slowed considerably, hospitalized at one point. He was relegated to right back where most downside risk is mitigated.
CENTER BACK RIGHT — El Salvador President Nayib Bukele
No one is quite sure what to make of the squad’s renegade player, President Bukele. His moves are highly unconventional and include launching a crypto currency, exacting a form of martial law to tackle gang violence, incentivizing business, and squashing the opposition. A flamboyant leader from a small team, Bukele is disruptive and adored by 80% of his people but quietly derided by most of his serious regional teammates. Despite his popularity, few expect such a prima donna to last very long.
CENTER BACK LEFT — Argentina President Alberto Fernández
After his biggest rival, Cristina, was issued a red card and prevented from playing in the next tournament, Argentina’s President Fernández was moved from left defender to center back left, a pivot he was anxious to make to distance himself from the least savory elements of the Peronist party. Once considered a potential mid-fielder who might influence others in the region, Fernandez never made it out of the scrum of local politics, choosing to play the back line for the rest of his career.
LEFT DEFENDER — Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro
Once the laughingstock of the entire team, allowed to play only because his daddy, PDVSA, underwrote much of the team’s travel costs, Maduro is now a squad veteran. His longevity is owed to his ability to pull of an endless series of dirty tactics, drawing only the intermittent yellow card. More recently, the chief arbitrator, known as Uncle Sam, has decided Maduro is fit to keep playing, if he pledges a few mea-culpas and plays nice with Chevron.
LEFT MID-FIELD — Chile President Gabriel Boric
Ambidextrous and sure-footed with both his left and, more recently, his right side, Boric has proven to be a nimble maverick through three tumultuous years of campaigning and governing. Neither the firebrand leftist his most ardent supporters hoped for, nor the market friendly pragmatist, characterized by predecessors, Boric is an enigma who unsettles investors but intrigues intellectuals. It remains to be seen how long or successfully his new career in politics will endure.
CENTER MID-FIELD — Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Like Zico returning to Flamengo, Lula is back at center-midfield, the undisputed leader and veteran of the squad. Strongly disliked by half of Brazil’s voters, Lula none-the-less brings gravitas and name recognition to any international venue where Latin America must compete. Like Pelé heading off to Mexico for the 1970 World Cup, there are a few doubters questioning Lula’s place on the squad. His early cabinet choices provoke additional doubting, but there is no question that his global stardom and positive economic track record help put some investors at ease.
RIGHT MID-FIELD — Peru President Dina Boluarte
A controversial new addition to the team, Boluarte replaces the much- flawed former President Castillo, whose home team had tried to strip him of his captainship several times before he threw a fit, threatened to dissolve the team and was subsequently escorted off the field of play. Little is known yet about President Boluarte, who only started playing in 2021. She is seen as a competent, if unexciting player whose presence may be short-lived but should strengthen the team. Despite her left-wing credentials as a former Marxist, Boluarte is expected to excel on the right as any surviving Peruvian president must do to govern.
LEFT FORWARD — Colombia President Gustavo Petro
Drawing a lot of attention but scoring few goals is Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro. He is perceived as a brilliant strategist but awful tactician. He often makes boastful predictions before a match only to come up short or blunder spectacularly. His one successful and early match, a watered down fiscal reform, may soon be forgotten if investor capital continues to flee the coup and his tactics turn more extreme. He joined the team less than a year ago, calling for the unclaimed captain’s arm band for himself, only to be quietly snubbed by his teammates. He has a long way to go to prove his leadership credentials on the Latin American team.
Right forward — Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader
Though recruited from a small team, Luis Abinader is widely viewed as a rising star. His election ended 16 years of PLD rule, a party that helped foster economic growth but purportedly stole vast sums of taxpayer monies. Abinader is a businessman by upbringing who later entered politics and who appears to believe in and largely adhere to the rules of play, which has helped him gain legitimacy on the regional team. Very comfortable in English and possessing business acumen, he often gives interviews as the team tours the world.
Striker — Unfilled Position
Latin America is still trying to recruit a political leader, preferably from a major feeder team, who combines all the needed skills of a striker: politically nimble but plays by the rules, experienced but energetic, telegenic but hard working, comfortable on the world stage but down to earth and supports free enterprise while funding a social safety net. In the past, talented strikers were not so tough to find: Enrique Cardoso, Michele Bachelet, Juan Manuel Santos come to mind. Until a new generation of candidates emerge, Latin America’s politicians will prove no match to the region’s soccer players — the only stars on stage that truly shine.