The UNDP and the EU-LAC Foundation invited to reflect on the State of Human Development in LAC during the “Latin American and Caribbean Fall”

The EU-LAC Foundation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organised a Keynote Conference on “The state of human development in Latin America and the Caribbean”, which took place virtually on 11 November 2021 in the framework of the “Latin American and Caribbean Fall” Festival.

In June 2021, the UNDP published the “Regional Human Development Report 2021” for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), describing a scenario of weak economic performance and widening social inequality in the region. In light of this important study, this Conference reviewed fundamental human development issues identified by UNDP which underly the region’s stagnated productivity, such as the concentration of economic and political power, the prevalence of violence in all its forms and distortive elements in the social protection systems.

The event started with welcome remarks by the EU-LAC Foundation´s Executive Director, Dr Adrián Bonilla and the State Secretary of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Ms Almut Möller.

Dr Adrian Bonilla introduced some of the key points of the UNDP report such as the exacerbation of structural vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean as a consequence of the pandemic. He pointed out how this fact, among others, poses a major challenge for the bi-regional partnership between the region and the European Union. In this line, he underlined the conviction that this crisis also constitutes a window of opportunity to generate changes in the public policies of governments and private sector initiatives, as well as in the design of instruments and programmes of international, technical and financial cooperation.

Ms Almut Möller highlighted the strong and close link between Hamburg and the Latin American and Caribbean region which dates back to the 17th century with the establishment of trade and commercial routes. Today, the city is an academic and economic bridge between both regions and has the honour of hosting institutions such as the Lateinamerika Verein e.V. or the German Institute of Global Area Studies (GIGA) – a bridge that is also sustained by the work of the EU-LAC Foundation and that finds an obvious manifestation in the annual “Latin American and Caribbean Fall” Festival.

This was followed by a keynote lecture by Dr Luis Felipe López-Calva, UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who gave an overview of the complex interplay of factors that give rise to the "development trap" in the LAC region. His intervention was aimed at sharing the findings of the report and identifying the main socio-economic challenges and opportunities for mobilisation in Latin America and the Caribbean in the current context of post-pandemic recovery.

Indeed, the pandemic genuinely hit the region in terms of health and economic impact. This situation added to various structural aspects that made the countries of the region particularly vulnerable, resulting in an alarming situation. In concrete figures, only 11% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries with high Human Development Index and Gross Domestic Product per capita. This figure is only exacerbated by the economic and social inequality that has become even more pronounced in the post-pandemic context. This inequality is at the heart of major concerns, not only because of the situation of poverty and deficiencies in social justice but also because it correlates with public opinion in the region. Thus, there has been a widespread perception that countries are governed in the interests of the few represented in the decision-making process, biasing political decisions. This finding, in the short and medium term, could jeopardize the legitimacy of political systems.

The conference also examined the adaptations to be made in the bi-regional partnership between the EU and LAC in areas such as social cohesion, sustainable development and digitalisation. Given the current scenario, the report outlines a series of corrective actions, including the need for LAC to move towards social protection systems that are universal, inclusive, growth-friendly and fiscally sustainable. In other words, social protection systems are key to changing the dynamics of low growth and high inequality in LAC. And the big challenge is to ensure that they also reach the informal sector.

Marc Litvine, Senior Expert, Head of Sector, Regional Programmes for Latin America and the Caribbean, Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA), European Commission, and Dr Merike Blofield, Director of the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies, then shared their analyses of the “Regional Human Development Report 2021”.

On the one hand, Marc Litvine shared many of the insights of Dr López-Calva and the report and agreed with the need to develop social security systems that include the informal sector and incorporate social, gender, environmental and digital dimensions. Although pointing out important cultural divergences in the EU-LAC bi-regional partnership – the most equal country in LAC is less equal than the most unequal country in the EU – he stressed that the bi-regional relationship is not one of development cooperation, but a genuine partnership of equals. And in this, according to Mr Litvine, cooperation in the field of digital transformation can and must play an essential role. Not only because it can be a key tool to ensure political transparency, but also because it can bring businesses on both sides of the Atlantic closer together and, especially, contribute to the mitigation of inequality within and between regions.

Dr Merike Blofield also congratulated the coherent UNDP report. Her intervention focused on the situation of children and women in the Latin American and Caribbean region, focusing on cases of intersectional vulnerability in the region. Firstly, she pointed out how poverty is highly skewed towards children – an alarming fact not only for humanitarian reasons but also because of the effects on inequality, human capital and future productivity. Secondly, she highlighted the huge gender gap in labour force participation rates between classes, particularly in the lower classes. Dr Blofield proposed concrete actions to address these issues and suggested taking advantage of the tacit political consensus towards child protection to create a new social contract with children. Including children in a social protection system from a young age could be a very useful strategy to reduce child poverty in LAC and would create a record of the individual that would escape future problems in the informal sector. An approach with which Dr Luis Felipe López-Calva showed significant consensus and interest.

The event was closed by Dr Anna Barrera, Senior Programme Manager at the EU-LAC Foundation, who thanked the speakers for the opportunity to reflect and deliberate on the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean and their contributions on potential measures and ways to address at least some of these challenges towards sustainable reconstruction.

This Keynote Conference formed part of the “Latin American and Caribbean Fall” Festival in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, an annual activity coordinated by the EU-LAC Foundation. The Festival aims to improve the visibility and knowledge of Latin America and the Caribbean in Hamburg through a programme of activities that allows the interested public to participate in the discussion of social, economic and political issues and, at the same time, brings the public closer to the cultural diversity of this region.