Events

Setting the Agenda for Latin America in the Coming Decade, pt. I & II

December 05, 2005 // 9:00am3:00pm

Panelists discussing democratic governance include: Augusto Varas, Ford Foundation, Chile; Amaury de Souza, Techne; Jonathan Hartlyn, University of North Carolina; Catalina Smulovitz, Torcuato Di Tella University; Ariel Armony, Colby College; Frances Hagopian, University of Notre Dame; Lorenzo Meyer, El Colegio de Mexico

Panelists discussing development and integration include: Moisés Naím, Foreign Policy Magazine; Robert T. Devlin, ECLAC, Washington Office; Caroline Atkinson, Council on Foreign Relations, Roberto Bouzas, FLACSO, Argentina; José Antonio Ocampo, United Nations; Gustav Ranis, Yale University

Panelists discussing social sector reform included: Jorge Balán, Ford Foundation, New York; Joan Nelson, Woodrow Wilson Center; Evelyne Huber, University of North Carolina; Robert Kaufman, Rutgers University; Carol Graham, The Brookings Institution; Barbara Stallings, Brown University; Marta Schteingart, El Colegio de México.

Panelists discussing hemispheric relations included: Abraham F. Lowenthal, Woodrow Wilson Center; José Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States; Raúl Benítez, UNAM; Cristina Eguizábal, Ford Foundation, Mexico; Peter Hakim, Inter-American Dialogue; Heraldo Muñoz, Chilean Mission to the United Nations.

The transition from authoritarian rule to democracy has, without a doubt, dominated the academic and policy discussion of Latin America for over two decades. The region has made advances by leaps and bounds and, holding what are by now routine, legitimate elections and peaceful transfers of power. Director of the Latin American Program Joseph S. Tulchin has been an active and innovative participant in that evolution over his sixteen impressive years at the Wilson Center. To celebrate his career and commemorate his retirement in January 2006, the Latin American Program gathered 24 of the region's most prominent academics and public officials on December 5–6, 2005, to determine what new challenges Latin America will face in the coming decade and how to best to ensure continued progress.

Members of a first panel provided an overview of the most significant challenges facing the region in consolidating democratic governance in coming years. Augusto Varas of the Ford Foundation, Santiago, highlighted four obstacles the region will face in the coming decade: poverty, weak democratic institutions, mass mobilization, and the absence of a single consensus on long-term strategies. Jonathan Hartlyn of the University of North Carolina focused on the importance of continuing progress in electoral governance. Despite improvements, the partisan composition of electoral institutions needs to improve. Future challenges involve regulating campaign finance, providing greater access to the media and more equitable use of state resources. Catalina Smulovitz of Torcuato di Tella University in Buenos Aires described how recent social and political transformations in Argentina have led to a widening gap between rich and poor and a decrease in political participation by the poorest sectors of the population. A smaller state in Argentina has a lessened capacity to effect change, at the same time that a crisis of representation leaves many segments of the population underrepresented. Achieving representation for these groups will be Argentina's greatest challenge in the coming years.

Calling for a paradigm shift in approaching the study of Latin America, Ariel Armony of Colby College called attention to three intellectual problems. First, academics must acknowledge that institutional failings affect all new democracies and that bad results do not necessarily mean bad democracies. Second, the model of sequential waves of democratization needs rethinking, in that the process does not always evolve in a neat, linear fashion. Last, focusing on the state as the unit of analysis studies ignores the relationships between the center and the periphery and different experiences at various levels of government. Francis Hagopian of the University of Notre Dame voiced concern that the majority of Latin Americans do not have faith in democracy. Most Latin American countries have experienced lackluster economic growth during the transition to democracy. In addition, citizens feel underrepresented: accountability for politicians is problematic and policies lack legitimacy given limited participation in establishing them. Hagopian predicted that identity politics and issues of multi-culturalism would become more politically salient, as a result of long-standing inequality in the distribution of rights.

"The presence of the past" in Latin America threatens the future of democracy as authoritarianism persists, according to Lorenzo Meyer of the Colegio de México. Meyer cited corruption and a paucity of foreign assistance as factors that debilitate democratic progress in the region. Notably, the absence of a "great idea" behind democracy in Latin America limits its appeal. That is, it is necessary to move beyond democracy for the sake of democracy: for it to succeed it must be elevated to the status of a moral and just cause. Amaury de Souza of Techné, a Rio-based consultancy firm, warned against the risk of an over-ambitious agenda for democracy in Latin America and encouraged comparative approaches to evaluating the success of democratic governance. With increasingly routine elections and orderly transfers of power, de Souza called for a renewed focus on accountability as well as further electoral and party reform.

Secretary-general of the Organization of American States José Miguel Insulza emphasized that inequality throughout Latin America has increased despite the highest regional economic growth in 25 years. Insulza cited crime, corruption, and populism as the major challenges facing Latin America in the coming decade. He added that while populist expressions are often hailed as an outpouring of democracy, they are really not a sign of growth or progress. In the future, Latin America needs efficient and honest as well as stable government.

Turning to questions of economic growth and development, a second panel addressed the fact that since the early 1980s, democratization and economic reforms have generated growth but have failed to reduce poverty reduction, generate employment, or improve education. Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, called for analysts to set aside platitudes about full glasses, corruption viruses, or cultural impediments to long-term growth. He encouraged his colleagues to explore the problematic relationship between growth and human development, the lack of useful economic policy models, the rise of populism, and the complexities of financial market reforms. Gustav Ranis of Yale University presented data from a multi-country study suggesting that growth in economic and human development occurs only when investment in social development programs precede or accompany economic reforms. Economic growth without rigorous social policies tends to be uneven and unsustainable over the long-term: unless Latin American governments focus on social deficits and marginalization, the current growth cycle will have little impact on development. Roberto Bouzas of FLACSO-Argentina commented that Chile's aggressive trade promotion may be transferable to other countries with resource-based advantages, but requires a multidimensional approach to growth. Hemispheric trade promises fewer benefits to industrialized states competing in global markets distorted by North Atlantic protectionism and subsidies.

Carolina Atkinson of the International Monetary Fund discussed the regional implications of Argentina's debt restructuring. Atkinson noted the stability of Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, where growth based on sounder macroeconomic policies equals or exceeds Argentina. Nevertheless, recent export-led growth in the region relies on high international commodity prices rather than increased competitiveness. Ranis agreed, cautioning against over-reliance on commodity exports that undermine economic diversity and job creation while sustaining the region's staggering inequality.

In a keynote address, Chilean ambassador to Argentina Luis Maira expressed disappointment with U.S. indifference towards Latin America, especially given perceptions in the region that the U.S. emphasis on intensified global security threats is exaggerated. Maira outlined four regional security issues with implications for the United States: illegal immigration from Mexico, the presence of organized crime in Central America, drug trafficking from Colombia, and illegal activities in the triple border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Maira questioned the role of the United States in the consolidation of democracy in the hemisphere and implied that it was unclear whether U.S. involvement helped or a hindered the process.

The challenges of democratic governance and economic development in Latin America are not isolated issues, but rather, intertwined with aspects of social reform. Jorge Balán of the Ford Foundation pointed out that weak political representation of social groups such as the poor and youth is a roadblock to democratic governance, just as widening inequality and persistent poverty hamper economic growth. According to Woodrow Wilson Center senior scholar Joan Nelson, a focus on education and health is crucial to social sector reform in Latin America. While access to these services has improved in the last two decades, Nelson argued that improved quality and increased utilization of the services must accompany this expansion. Moreover, decentralization of social service provision to state and local authorities in recent years carries opportunities as well as risks. Latin American countries lack a sustainable social contract and the ability to build up human capital, according to Robert Kaufman of Rutgers University. National leaders require incentives for transferring successful local social reform programs to the national level.

Social reform in the hemisphere has progressed in recent years, said Evelyne Huber of the University of North Carolina, and the issue is firmly embedded in the agendas of both international financial institutions and Latin American governments. Huber underscored the need for immediate poverty alleviation policies if future generations are expected to develop human capital and maximize their potential. Recognizing social reform as a political, rather than technical, issue means that the commitment of political actors and civil society is necessary to advance the agenda. Barbara Stallings of Brown University took a different view, arguing that employment and economic growth are at the root of solving poverty and inequality in Latin America. Employment provides income to households, instills a sense of self worth, and often leads to increased political participation. The type of growth is important given that sectors such as agriculture and services are highly labor intensive and more likely to create jobs. Marta Schteingart of the Colegio de México cited a number of obstacles to social policy reform, including cuts in housing subsidies, poorly implemented decentralization strategies, and funding gaps. In Mexico, private developers build the majority of homes without necessarily emphasizing housing for low-income families or the linkages between housing policy and urban development. Schteingart called for a modification of the present housing financial structure in order to provide financing through subsidized credit or commercial banks.

In a final panel on hemispheric relations, founding director of the Wilson Center's Latin American Program Abraham Lowenthal of the University of Southern California challenged his peers to anticipate the changes in U.S.-Latin American relations in the coming decade and to explicitly determine what can be done to facilitate continued progress. Although the shared struggle against the legacies of debt, inflation, and authoritarianism and the end of Cold War polarities offered a glimpse of hemispheric unity, it nevertheless failed to dramatically improve the complicated relations between states. Heraldo Muñoz, Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted an absence of regional consensus on political and economic issues. Politically, leaders are increasingly likely to be chosen through elections that are generally perceived as free and fair. Economically, however, the region is Balkanized, as a few countries integrate into global markets while the majority fall behind and have poor prospects for catching up. These differences in economic possibilities threaten efforts to tighten hemispheric bonds.

Cristina Eguizábal of the Ford Foundation, Mexico, argued that Latin America falls into three subregions: Northern (Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean), the Southern Cone, and the Andes. The northern group faces ever closer, asymmetrical relations with the United States based, increasingly, on migration and remittance flows rather than trade and investment. By contrast, countries of the Southern Cone have diverse and largely industrialized economies and seek partners across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Andean countries are torn between a quest for U.S. investment and the high costs of the U.S.-funded counter-drug programs. At the same time, there is an absence of sustainable economic alternatives to reduce poverty.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, stressed that success in the coming decades depends on whether or not Latin American economies sustain growth rates at or above 4 percent per year. Those that do may be able to address long-standing problems of poverty and inequality. Moreover, rising levels of crime and violence frequently linked to international cartels or gangs are an increasingly important part of the hemispheric agenda. Addressing them through a combination of military and police action, social policies, and judicial measures, at the same time that Latin American countries lack sufficient funds, are critical issues that require a multinational response.

Raúl Benítez of Mexico's National Autonomous University also emphasized a broadening regional security agenda that demands collective action. Transnational threats such as the Central American gangs or maras, aggressive social movements, rising militarism, and cross-border criminal networks bind these nations together as neighbors and allies. Benítez agreed with Hakim that regional institutions, especially the Organization of American States, have failed as instruments for regional cooperation. Yet growing interdependence across the region, at least in the security realm, will continue to require hemispheric cooperation and could provide the basis for more collaborative policies in other areas.

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