Top Economists and Academics Debate Latin America’s Future Prosperity

UM’s Center for Hemispheric Policy hosted a group of leading experts on Latin America for a discussion on the economic and political challenges facing the region.

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MIAMI, Fla. (May 24, 2014) — After a “golden decade” that saw powerful economic growth, the expansion of the middle class, and a strengthening of democratic principles and rules of law in almost every country in the region, Latin America finds itself in a “predicament from which there is no easy way out,” Jorge Castañeda, a prominent academic who served as Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, told an audience on Thursday at the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy’s ninth annual Latin America Symposium.

“The problem is that we are moving into an era of much slower growth,” said Castañeda, addressing about 150 business people, academics, and students at the Conrad Hotel in downtown Miami. “This is leading to frustration and anger among the middle classes,” he said. “They are not expanding; they want more and are not getting it.”

Castañeda was introduced by Susan K. Purcell, director of the CHP, who moderated the symposium’s four panel discussions.

According to Castañeda, another problem is that democratic institutions, which were elected through a transparent democratic process, are now perceived as not governing in a responsive way to popular demand. In Brazil, people pay high taxes but the populace does not feel they received the corresponding services, he said.

Although there are no obvious solutions to the challenges faced by the region, Augusto de la Torre, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank, pointed out that in the past decade 75 million people have come out of poverty in the region, making the impoverished no longer a majority.

“Structurally, it is a different region than it was before the boom,” de la Torre said. For Latin America to continue to grow and prosper, more social policies that empower the growing middle class and offer opportunities to those born in poverty are needed. Countries also need to boost their educational systems and infrastructures, he said.

During a panel focusing on the future of Venezuela, Brian Latell, senior research associate at UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said Venezuela, even with its current political and economic problems, heavily subsidizes Cuba to the tune of “$5 billion to $10 billion dollars [worth] of oil a year.” Cuba in return has bolstered the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government with intelligence training that includes personnel who created and trained special brigades to suppress social uprisings and control voter rolls.

“Cubans maintain a role in promoting international support of Venezuela,” said Latell.

Barbara Gutierrez can be reached at 305-284-3205.

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Jorge Castañeda, left, former secretary of foreign affairs for Mexico, discusses the economic and political challenges facing Latin America. Also participating in the panel are Carl Meacham, Susan K. Purcell, and Tony Volpon.

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