Daniel Arroyo, President of the Citizen Power Organization and former Vice-Minister of Social Development of Argentina.
Over the last decade, Latin America has experienced a significant growth that has led to a substantial improvement in the social indicators of each of the region’s countries. We believe, however, that this general view of a better social condition must be complemented by a more rigorous analysis of the new conflicts and tensions that are arising. This will allow for accurate policies to be drawn up for combatting poverty and inequality that still affect many Latin Americans.
In the 2002-2007 period, the region’s Gross National Product (GNP) grew enabling an improvement in the social indicators of poverty and destitution. But as from the international financial crisis of 2008, the increases in the price of food, rising inflation, and factors peculiar to each country put a brake on this tendency.
As for the extent of poverty, Argentina and Chile could be placed in a first group with low or moderate levels. Brazil has also managed to reduce its indicators and finds itself among the countries with a low medium level of poverty. In any case, the most serious problem is the socio-economic inequality that is persisting over time. A similar situation is found in Mexico, where misery in rural areas is also prominent. The largest number of people living in a situation of poverty is to be found in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. In these countries, the poor still represent a significant proportion of the population: between 40% and 55%, as detailed in Tendencias de los sistemas de protección social en América Latina [Tendencies for social protection systems in Latin America], published in 2010.
The region is still one of the most unequal in the world, which compromises the access of many to dignified conditions of well-being and citizenship. Despite a certain improvement tendency in the income distribution patterns in the majority of countries studied, this is a very insignificant reduction in the overall picture of inequality, because it does not change the income concentration model and the clearly inequitable degree of poverty at the regional level. This inequality harms access to basic services, such as healthcare and education, and inclusion in the job market, especially on the part of the young people from the poorest strata of society.
Latin America is a region of vast territories and many natural resources, with great growth potential and more than two decades of democracy. Its future is promising. The possibility of having more integrated societies in 2020 depends on us. Despite the economic and political comings and goings, the international context seems to be giving us a new opportunity. We must not waste it.
Improvements in living and working conditions are accompanied by a series of key challenges for the next few years, as highlighted in the following order:
1. The public policies must focus on the social inclusion of young people, by prioritizing issues relating to education, security, and jobs. Massive plans are necessary, aimed at training and the access of future generations to employment opportunities, and involving a more wide-ranging mentoring network.
2. Most of the poor population in Latin American countries is concentrated in the major urban centers. One of the pending tasks of social policy is to establish specific actions in accordance with these realities, thereby integrating the dimensions of social assistance, basic infrastructure, public security, informal labor market and the judiciary.
3. The heart of the problem lies within social inequality and in the fact that, although these inclusion processes have reduced poverty, they have not managed to narrow the gap between the richest and the poorest. This is a source of tension and violence, to the extent that it generates relative deprivation (the difference between consumption expectations and real income). Economic instruments are necessary for changing this situation, over and above universal policies capable of transferring resources to the poorer elements of the population. It seems equally necessary to incorporate more structural proposals in economic matters such as, for example, an authoritative reform processes and an analysis of the taxation systems in these countries.
4. Microcredit appears as a clear strategy for reducing poverty, in view of the fact that people with lower incomes essentially lack the capital needed for renewing machinery and technology and making a scale leap in their production processes. Economic growth in the region would represent an opportunity for carrying out policies of this type on a large scale.
5. Over the last few years we have witnessed unequal advances in Latin American countries with regard to participative schemes, and permanent institutional work mechanisms between the State and the civil society have not been possible to be consolidated. Given the current debate about the need for decentralizing public funds that are over-concentrated, a proposal is being put forward to promote community participation locally.