Looking Back at the XX Annual CAF Conference

Since its first edition in 1997, the CAF Conference – organized by CAF – Development Bank of Latin America, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Organization of American States — has expanded to become the premier annual event on Western Hemispheric affairs in Washington, DC. Initially a meeting on Andean trade issues, the conference now covers political, economic and cultural trends in Latin America, the most salient topics on the US-Latin America agenda, global governance issues, and the region's relations with the world.

More than 1,400 people attended the XX edition of the CAF Conference on September 7 and 8, at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. This year’s meeting – which gathered experts, journalists, business leaders, and decision-makers from all over the world – presented both a reflection on the evolution of the hemisphere over the past 20 years and a prospective view of the challenges and possibilities ahead. The master of ceremonies was Jéssica de la Peña, journalist at RCN News.

Introduction & keynote speech

In their introductory remarks, Enrique García, president of CAF – Development Bank of Latin America and Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, welcomed all attendees and noted the growth and evolution the CAF Conference has experienced in its two decades, highlighting the unprecedented number of participants and the high quality and diversity of the panels. An introductory video featured testimonies and images of the impressive history of this annual gathering.

This year, the CAF Conference was honored to have Vice President of the United States Joe Biden as the keynote speaker. Former US Trade Representative and Co-Chair of the Inter-American Dialogue Carla Hills introduced the vice president, describing his impressive career in public service – including 36 years as a US Senator representing Delaware – and his special attention to hemispheric issues, in particular his leading role within the Obama administration on efforts to strengthen cooperation among the Northern Triangle countries of Central America to promote security, development and rule of law.

In his speech, Vice President Biden recognized President Garcia’s 25-year leadership at CAF, and urged the United States and Latin America to continue working together to make a Western Hemisphere that is middle-class, democratic and secure. The vice president noted the numerous initiatives the United States has launched to build partnerships with Latin America, including the Alliance for Prosperity with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the 100,000 Strong in the Americas education program, and support for the Colombian peace process. He said that this is as much a matter of principle as it is self-interest, given the interconnection between hemispheric prosperity and the growth of the US economy. Looking ahead, Vice President Biden hoped for the United States and the hemisphere to continue working together to address common challenges and forge a renewed relationship for the 21st century.

Regional integration, political landscape & the impact of the US elections

Following the vice president’s remarks, the first panel of the day focused on the evolution of inter-American relations and regional integration in Latin America in the 20 years since the first CAF meeting took place. The conversation was moderated by Patricia Janiot, anchor at CNN en Español, and included Thomas Shannon, US undersecretary of state for political affairs; Nelson Jobim, former defense and justice minister of Brazil; Marta Lucia Ramirez, former defense and trade minister of Colombia; Allan Wagner, former foreign affairs minister of Peru; and Félix Peña, director of the Institute of International Trade of the ICBC Foundation. Former President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, who offered introductory remarks, focused on the importance of strengthening regional integration and including societies as critical actors in this process.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, moderated the following session, which discussed the political landscape in Latin America with a special focus on countries that have recently experienced a change in government, or will soon go to the polls to elect new leaders. The panel included Alberto Vergara, visiting professor at Sciences Po, who discussed the challenges of the new administration of President Kuczynski in Peru; Matias Spektor, associate professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil, who explained the situation in the country under the new government of Michel Temer; Luis Vicente León, president of Datanálisis in Venezuela and an incisive analyst on the country’s political and economic situation; Carlos Pagni, columnist at La Nación in Argentina, who analyzed the first months of the administration of Mauricio Macri; and Adrián Bonilla, professor at FLACSO Ecuador who provided scenarios for the 2018 presidential elections in that country.  

A critical issue for the hemisphere in 2016 is the US presidential elections that will take place on November 8 and define who will succeed Barack Obama.  Juan Carlos López, anchor at CNN en Español, moderated a debate about this crucial election with Gustavo Fernández, former foreign affairs minister of Bolivia; Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Mark Bassets, US bureau chief for El País newspaper. Panelists discussed the role of Latin America in the campaign, as well as the issues that will likely be important for the next US administration that will take office in January 2017.

Development & international finance governance

Session three of the conference focused on the economic environment in Latin America, as well as the challenges the region is facing to rekindle economic growth and continue the significant social progress of the past decade. Enrique García, president of CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, moderated the discussion, and Enrique V. Iglesias – former Ibero-American Secretary General and former president of the Inter-American Development Bank – offered introductory remarks noting the profound changes in the global economy and the need for Latin American countries to diversify their economies and intensify their reforms.

The panel included representatives from some of the most important institutions in the field of Latin American development: Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC);  Augusto de la Torre, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank;  Alejandro Werner, director for the Western Hemisphere at the International Monetary Fund; and Alejandro Foxley, president of the Corporation for Latin American Studies and former finance minister of Chile.

The following panel looked beyond Latin America and discussed the ongoing transformation of the international financial architecture, including the emergence of new institutions and the rise of new finance mechanisms from developing countries. The session was moderated by Harinder Kohli, president and CEO of Emerging Markets Forum, and included opening remarks by K.V. Kamath, president of the New Development Bank based in Shanghai. The panelists were Stephen P. Groff, vice president of the Asian Development Bank;  Nikolay Kosov, chairman of the International Investment Bank based in Moscow; Luis Miguel Castilla, visiting scholar at MIT and former finance minister of Peru; and José Antonio Ocampo, former finance minister of Colombia.

Perspectives on Cuba & the social impact of gastronomy

More than a year and a half after presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro agreed to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba the future of the island remains one of the most followed topics in the hemisphere. Guillermo Fernández de Soto, director for Europe at CAF and former foreign affairs minister of Colombia, moderated a panel on the process of reforms in Cuba and its rapprochement with the United States, with the participation of Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB); Mario Bergara, president of the Central Bank of Uruguay; Dan Restrepo, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Vilma Hidalgo, deputy director of the University of Havana.  

An ongoing goal of the CAF Conference is to portray the diversity of social and political actors that are contributing to Latin America’s future. Latin American cuisine is usually portrayed as a cultural symbol and a source of tourism and economic activity, but rarely as a tool for social progress. To underscore the potential of gastronomy in social transformation, Ana Mercedes Botero, director of social innovation at CAF, moderated a conversation with Sumito Estévez, chef at El Compartir in Venezuela; Michelangelo Cestari, CEO at Gustu Restaurant in Bolivia; and Brian MacNair, executive director of World Central Kitchen.

Enhancing Latin American infrastructure

Latin America’s large infrastructure gap is a recurring topic in discussions about regional economic challenges. In particular, lacking investment in transportation is a major obstacle for productivity, competitiveness and growth in some countries. Guillermo Perry, former finance minister of Colombia, moderated a panel on innovative financial instruments to address these shortcomings and promote public-private partnerships. The panel included Liz Bronder, director of Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Finance Corporation; Alexandre Meira da Rosa, vice president of countries at the Inter-American Development Bank; Peter Vonk, president of CAF Asset Management Corp; Martin Redrado, director of Fundación Capital in Argentina; and Robert Palter, senior partner at McKinsey & Company.

Looking ahead: The Colombian peace process & the vision of Latin American new leaders

After more than five decades of internal conflict, the Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC have reached a peace agreement, which will be signed on September 26 and approved or rejected by Colombian citizens in a referendum scheduled for October 2. To discuss the challenges and implications of the agreement – as well as the criticism it has received from political and social actors in Colombia – the CAF Conference convened a distinguished panel of key protagonists and analysts of this historic process. Michael Reid, columnist for The Economist, moderated the discussion with María Ángela Holguín, minister of foreign affairs of Colombia; Néstor Humberto Martínez, attorney general of Colombia; Rafael Pardo, post conflict minister of Colombia; and Alejandro Santos, chairman of the Reconciliation Foundation of Colombia and director of Semana

The final panel of the XX CAF Conference looked towards the future of Latin America and the aspirations and perspectives of its younger generation of leaders. To navigate this critical topic, Gustau Alegret, political correspondent at NTN24, moderated a conversation with young leaders and decision makers, representing different countries, perspectives, and ideological leanings: Verónika Mendoza, leader of the Frente Amplio Party in Peru; Soledad Núñez, minister of housing of Paraguay; Cecilia Chacón, member of the Municipal Council of La Paz, Bolivia; Daniela Chacón,  former deputy mayor of Quito, Ecuador; and Cecilia Alemany of Uruguay, who is coordinator of Red Sur and advisor to the UN Office for Project Services.

An emblematic representation of the spirit of these 20 years of CAF conferences, the panel acknowledged existing challenges but presented an optimistic vision for the future of the region, based on democratic governance, economic and social development, and the progressive impulse of young Latin American leaders.