Economic, social and governance experts from around the Hemisphere participated today in the Policy Dialogue "Road to Panama: Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas," organized by the Organization of American States (OAS) at its headquarters in Washington, DC as part of preparations for the Seventh Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama on April 10 and 11, 2015.
The dialogue was part of a series of activities planned to increase the participation of civil society and social partners on issues that the meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Americas in April 2015 will address, which also include national consultations and virtual forums. The event served as an introduction to general approaches in the areas of economic and social prosperity, democratic governance and citizen participation that the Summit will address, according to the proposal of the host country.
Jointly organized by the Summits Secretariat and the Department of International Affairs of the OAS, the dialogue was introduced by the Executive Secretary of the Summits of the Americas and Secretary for External Relations of the hemispheric Organization, Alfonso Quiñonez, who recalled the role played by social actors in the Summits of the Americas and how this role has evolved to become a permanent space for exchange of ideas facilitated by the OAS. "To discuss the issue and what surrounds it we are honored to have today the participation of renowned experts whose views will enrich the debate and contributions of civil society on the Summit’s theme," he said.
Ambassador José López Max Cornejo, Director General for International Organizations and Conferences of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama, presented via teleconference the theme of the Seventh Summit of the Americas, "Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas." The Panamanian diplomat spoke about the important economic development that the region has experienced in recent years, which took place "even with the crisis in the countries to the north; a growth that has led to significant progress and helped lift millions of people out of poverty." However, he continued, "we must recognize that the achievements have failed to make more egalitarian societies, and there are still challenges, primarily of a social nature, that endure over time and limit our development." Many of these challenges, he said, are transboundary in nature, "of common and shared responsibility," which cannot be addressed in isolation. In the same vein, he recalled the importance of putting at the center of this debate international cooperation and ensuring its implementation through more inclusive mechanisms.
The Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Bank, Augusto de la Torre, analyzed the economic state of the region and stressed the need to understand how the challenges have changed over the decades. He recalled that in recent years 55 million Latin Americans entered the middle class and that this process generated a different social structure. "We were a region where our intellectual capital was focused on solving the problem of inequality and social stability. Now, when we have achieved social progress, the challenge for the future is to identify how to restore growth to a rate that will still achieve social gains, an area in which unfortunately the region has no experience," he said. Finally, he expressed optimism that the region has the potential to become "a place for the generation of original thinking on the paths to growth," given the intellectual development and creativity that has traditionally identified it.
For her part, the Director of the Washington Office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Inés Bustillo, analyzed the areas in which the region has had significant developments, among them she stressed overcoming poverty, social inclusion, employment, education and the formulation of universal social policies. "We have made significant progress in terms of poverty, and 58 million people have made their way out of poverty since 2002, which represents a significant achievement," she said. That success was reflected even in groups traditionally excluded from receiving the benefits of growth, such as indigenous peoples. Speaking about the progress in labor markets, Bustillo said that the unemployment rate in the region decreased from 15% in 2002 to 6.2% in 2013, a period which also saw important developments in terms of education coverage. Regarding perspectives for the future, she said that "the international context is less favorable today and therefore, we need to know how to secure growth and move forward with an agenda for reducing inequality," and praised the countries of the region that have incorporated a social agenda into the programs of finance ministers. "The region is talking about how to grow, how to grow more competitive and efficient and what structural changes must be made to continue supporting the issues of inequality," she said.
Alicia Puyana, Professor of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), presented her vision of democratic governance and stated that, although the region has gained in terms of economic growth, "it was not possible to restore and recover what was lost in terms of welfare, income and equity in the two lost decades." Puyana spoke of how economic inequality implies "inequality in freedom" and considered the fragility of the countries of the region in the areas of employment, distribution and stability. "Inequality generates pressures of many kinds, undermines democratic principles, generates large bursts of economic migrants and refugees, cause environmental problems and has become an important topic of international cooperation, as a serious geopolitical and geostrategic issue" she said, and concluded by saying that "if we are not addressing substantive issues of inequality, we cannot think that with the current political conditions, governance can be achieved. We have to do more."
As part of the dialogue, the OAS national offices in Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Peru hosted debates in which representatives of civil society were given the opportunity to interact and discuss the theme of the Summit of the Americas, with the aim of collecting recommendations to be presented to the host country of the event.
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.