On May 19, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted its first virtual forum for Dialogue members to discuss the implications of the Covid-19 crisis on Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 35 members from across the hemisphere convened to share their insights on the present-day challenges in the region in light of the public health and economic crises. Dialogue program directors briefed members on the major challenges confronting the region in their specialized areas and shared how their programs are working to address them. The forum was moderated by Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.
In his opening remarks, Shifter recalled the mass demonstrations and social turbulence in the region late last year, quoting Dialogue member Enrique Iglesias who described these recent events “not as an época de cambio, but a cambio de época.” Shifter noted that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, this change has become even more profound. He added that the Dialogue relies on the input and guidance of its members as the organization pivots to explore the ramifications of Covid-19 while still maintaining its traditional focus on the underlying themes and drivers of change in the region.
Shifter then turned to the Dialogue program directors. Michael Camilleri discussed how the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program is paying close attention to countries’ responses to the pandemic. Some governments’ restrictions constitute arbitrary violations of human rights and threaten democratic governance throughout the region. Manuel Orozco, who heads the Migration, Remittances & Development Program, explained that the vast majority of the world’s migrants live in countries that have been most impacted by the virus, and many of the most affected countries are also the most remittance dependent.
Margaret Myers, director of the Asia & Latin America Program, drew attention to the yet-unanswered questions regarding China’s relationship with Latin America, including whether China will “come to the rescue” and what the global implications of its stimulus measures will be. The director of the Energy, Climate Change & Extractive Industries Program, Lisa Viscidi, also looked toward the uncertain future, especially the fate of oil-dependent countries given their massive recent decline in revenue and the long-term viability of their operations. Finally, Ariel Fiszbein, who runs the Education Program, discussed the loss in schooling that countries have faced, due to their inability to adapt to distance learning and the lack of viable infrastructure. All speakers noted how their programs have adapted to this new reality, by hosting virtual events, modifying existing projects to an online environment, and continuing to engage with the ever-changing data and trends within the region and around the world.
The forum then opened to members for their questions and remarks. Several participants touched on the increase in inequality in a region already highly unequal, including access to sexual and reproductive health, food, and financial resources, among others. A recurring concern was the growing threat to democratic governance, given the authoritarian and isolationist response of some governments to Covid-19. Many emphasized the heightened need for multilateral cooperation. Members also discussed the rise of populism and its manifestations in xenophobic discourse and mistrust of science. They also addressed the possibility of another “lost decade” for Latin America due to the bleak economic outlook and loss of human capital accumulation, as many students do not have access to an adequate education and unemployment and informality remain high.
The unprecedented crisis is a matter of great concern, but there is room for hope. Several members discussed how key actors can take advantage of the opportunity for collaboration that will arise from the region’s inevitable recovery. They added that the Dialogue can play a significant role in establishing shared priorities to foster meaningful change. While there are concerns about the relaxation of environmental regulations across the hemisphere, the unique trends in energy usage during the pandemic may lead to a reevaluation of unsustainable methods of production and energy provision. As one member described, the hemisphere may witness two sociopolitical “moments” — one that sees strong public policy and better performance, but a second moment that shows increased polarization and mistrust.
The forum concluded with program directors highlighting how their programs can address the specific concerns raised by members. Topics included the role of the military in governance, the challenges for middle income countries to gain access to the resources of international financial institutions, and the importance of financial inclusion and digital transfers.
Sebastián Acha, Paraguay
Alicia Bárcena, Mexico
Sergio Bitar, Chile
Catalina Botero, Colombia
Luis Miguel Castilla, Peru
Fernando Cepeda, Colombia
Oscar Chacón, United States
Arturo Condo, Ecuador
Joyce Chang, United States
Lee Cullum, United States
Denise Damiani, Brazil
Lourdes Flores Nano, Peru
Roberto Teixeira da Costa, Brazil
Julio Frenk, Mexico
Diego García-Sayán, Peru
Rebeca Grynspan, Costa Rica
Enrique V. Iglesias, Uruguay
Earl Jarrett, Jamaica
Yolanda Kakabadse, Ecuador
Natalia Kanem, Panama
Abraham Lowenthal, United States
Moisés Naím, Venezuela
Pierre Pettigrew, Canada
Jacqueline Pitanguy, Brazil
Julissa Reynoso, United States
Guillermo Rishchynski, Canada
María Luisa Romero, Panama
Andrés Rozental, Mexico
Carlos Saladrigas, United States
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, Bolivia
Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., United States
Eduardo Stein, Guatemala
Maria Fernanda Teixeira, Brazil
Juan Manuel Urtubey, Argentina
Joaquín Villalobos, El Salvador
Elena Viyella de Paliza, Dominican Republic