Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Forging Inclusive Democracies

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Forging Inclusive Democracies

Article excerpt

The Latin American democracy forum, convened in Mexico City by the OAS, the UNDP, and the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute, opened a broad space for analysis. It brought together participants from a variety of backgrounds in Latin America, who contributed their ideas on challenges to democracy, new paths to development, and a variety of approaches to resolving pending issues on Latin America's political and economic agenda.

This is the second part of a series of interviews that Americas conducted during the Forum held last October, with some of the participants.

Distinguished economist, academic, and politician Ricardo Lagos was president of Chile between 2000 and 2006. Today, he is a UN Special Envoy on Climate Change and one of the key figures in the Coalition of Parties for Democracy. He is also the founder of the Party for Democracy and a member of Chile's Socialist Party.

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Alicia Barcena, is a Mexican biologist who has been Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) since 2008.

Alicia Barcena

* Do you believe that political and economic changes in recent years have helped to consolidate democracy and, if so, in what way?

Yes. There have definitely been some very significant changes. The first, most remarkable, factor has been the end to dictatorships. We also have evidence now of social mobility in the region and some important progress in that area. For example, for the first time, a worker--a representative of the steelworkers union--became president in Brazil; we have an indigenous president in Bolivia; and I think this is the first time we have had a number of strong women leading their countries. All of these are very positive changes and are the result of greater democracy.

We can also see from these changes that each country is seeking its own model. I don't believe that there is a single model for everyone, but democracy is being consolidated in the sense that we now have leaders with great social commitment. In this last decade, all of the political leaders of the region have shown greater commitment to reducing poverty and confronting the urgent need to reduce inequality.

This is extremely important for the consolidation of democracy because [poverty and inequality] are at the heart of the social problems that are impacting the Latin American community.

* Why does Latin America continue to have such high levels of inequality and poverty? How can a democratic culture contribute to resolving this problem?

To begin with, we are emerging from a past of 500 years of great ethnic inequality with winners and losers. Indigenous peoples, native ethnic groups, did not have the right to vote or to be elected; they were not able to participate in democracy at all.

The case of Bolivia is one of the clearest. It was governed by an elite group who controlled most of the resources. That is the issue. Today we are still dominated by an affluent elite that has access to technology, money, power, and the media.

How can we confront this inequality? We need state policies that address at least three vital issues:

We must work very hard to reduce the production gap. It is essential for small and medium-sized enterprises and self-employed workers to have access to financing, to the law, and to technology, and that they be able to connect to value chains and production chains. Closing the production gap means having access to dignified employment, because this is the most important solution for fighting inequality.

And of course, this must be accompanied by very active policies on the industrial front, in technological development, in innovation, and also in the social arena. As capacity is strengthened for production, the state must intervene in order to redistribute resources in a more equitable way between the poorest and the richest.

* What kinds of economic policies would you like to see replicated in more Latin American countries--separate from the various political models? …

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