Renewed Cooperation in a Troubled Hemisphere – Towards the Summit of the Americas

collage of panelists with map of the Americas Main image: CC0 Public Domain Dedication

On March 31, 2022, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a public event to present its biennial Sol M. Linowitz policy report titled: “The Case for Renewed Cooperation in a Troubled Hemisphere: Towards the Ninth Summit of the Americas”. During the event, panelists discussed the main findings and recommendations of the report and analyzed the current state of regional and hemispheric cooperation.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, gave introductory remarks on the history of the report and introduced the speakers. Dialogue co-chairs Laura Chinchilla and Thomas A. Shannon, presented the report, followed by commentary from two members of the Dialogue’s Board of Directors Sylvia Escovar, strategic president of EPS Sanitas Comprehensive Health Group, and Donna Hrinak, senior vice president of the Royal Caribbean Group, as well as Dialogue Member Tabata Amaral, federal deputy for the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) of the São Paulo State Government.

Shifter explained the purpose, methodology and importance of the report. He noted that in these troubled times for Latin America, given significant democratic decline and the challenges spurred by the pandemic, there is one clear lesson that can be drawn: though challenging to achieve, collective action for common hemispheric interests and values is needed and is still attainable.

Chinchilla focused on the economic and political impact of Covid-19 in the region, emphasizing the 6.8 percent GDP contraction in 2020 linked to high informality in Latin American labor markets, the global plunge of commodity demands, and the lack of tourism. She stressed the fact that poverty is now at 33.7 percent of the population in Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC), totaling 209 million people, and that inequality has increased significantly. She then highlighted the concerns mentioned in the report of the limited fiscal capacity of states given high deficits, inflationary pressure, rising debt and capital outflows caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. The report also touches on the issues of dissatisfaction with government performance, breaches of rule of law, and populist and authoritarian tendencies paired with increased military presence beyond traditional security domains.

Chinchilla concluded by pointing out the more optimistic messages in the report. The LAC region has historically proven its resilience and vitality, demonstrated by the capacity of the private sector to innovate. Since 2018, the number of Latin American startup companies valued at USD$1 billion+ has grown from four to twenty-seven. Latin America remains the most democratic region in the developing world, and the majority of governments are granted mandates with free and fair elections. She concluded by underlining that, though complex to achieve, LAC countries possess all the necessary resources to face the challenges ahead. In this regard, regional cooperation will be an essential part of the process.

Shannon spoke on the importance of the 9th Summit of the Americas, which comes at a particularly challenging time for the region and could be a great opportunity for inter-American institutions and hemispheric cooperation to show their significance in facing common threats. Despite the current decline in democracy indexes in the region, Shannon stated that Latin America is still clearly committed to democracy and is currently undergoing a period of reshaping of democratic governance, with an increased focus on the resources that states can provide to individuals. Shannon concluded that during this transformative period, it will be necessary that democracy produces tangible outcomes for its citizens.

Hrinak highlighted that Latin America and the United States have common challenges that must be managed together, including the undermining of the democratic processes and rising inequality. She shared her concerns that the distinction between military and civilian leaders in LAC is becoming increasingly blurred and that elections are a sine qua non of democracy. Despite this, authoritarian leaders are currently using their popular mandate to justify tactics that reduce democratic space. As a recommendation, Hrinak put forward the idea that the Organization of American States (OAS) should channel its primary efforts into promoting the democratic agenda in the region.

Amaral focused her remarks on Brazil and the consequences of the pandemic, such as deepening socioeconomic inequality and the high number of deaths, over six-hundred thousand. She expanded on Hrinak’s worry of increased militarization of democracy in the region, noting that under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, the number of military members in the Brazilian government more than doubled. Amaral also focused on the education sector, stressing the importance of directing funds to provide digital resources, such as computers, to students living in under-served areas that during the pandemic were completely cut off from the education system.

Escovar described the current situation in Colombia and the significance of the report for the country. She spoke on the current elections, noting that issues such as income inequality, violence and corruption are setting the stage for a new generation of innovative leaders who will come to the table with solutions to these issues and also incorporate into the agenda the fight against climate change. Ultimately, Escovar stressed that Colombia is, like the rest of Latin America, still committed to democracy and that democratic governance is not at stake.

The panel ended with a lively participation of the public during a Q&A session. The main questions asked where on how to measure the success of the coming Summit of the Americas, the inclusion of modern challenges in the Summit’s agenda such as climate change and how to foster a more effective, higher-quality democratic governance.

Watch the full recording of the event here


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