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Uruguay on Top of Americas for Social Inclusion

By: Laura Weiss - @leweiss105 - Jul 31, 2014, 9:37 am

EspañolAccording to the 2014 Social Inclusion Index, released on Tuesday by the Americas Quarterly, Uruguay has the most open access to markets, education, and political participation in Latin America. The analysis, which includes the United States and 16 nations in Latin America, addresses variables such as opportunities in the formal job market and government responsiveness to civic engagement.

Americas Quarterly 2014 Social Inclusion Index
Americas Quarterly 2014 Social Inclusion Index.

The report seeks to gauge “the opportunity for marginalized groups to participate,” said AQ Editor-in-Chief Chris Sabatini at the index’s public launch on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. This definition, he explained, goes far beyond GDP data or income distribution. Rather, it focuses on citizens’ basic rights to self-determination, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic standing.

The study aggregates and analyzes up to 21 indicators — some nations had to be rated by fewer, given a lack of data – to produce interactive scorecards. Uruguay echoes its 2013 victory, with the highest ratings for nine indicators, including access to formal employment, regardless of race or gender, and political, civil, and women’s rights.

Meanwhile, Paraguay, Honduras, and Guatemala remain entrenched at the bottom of the heap — although Haiti and Cuba are not included. Along with generally low rates of access to formal employment, AQ reports extreme racial discrepancies. While 43.6 percent of mestizo Guatemalans have access to a formal job, for example, only 17 percent of indigenous Guatemalans do. Alana Tummino, AQ senior editor and policy director at the Americas Society, pointed out that the correlation between the most violent and least socially inclusive countries is no coincidence.

Americas Quarterly 2014 Social Inclusion Index
Americas Quarterly Social Inclusion Ranking.

Bolivia features among the more notable results, given its top scores for secondary-school enrollment by gender and race, according to World Bank statistics. However, the scorecard summary questions the reliability of that data.

Chile and Brazil show the steepest overall declines, both down three spots, from second to fifth and fifth to eighth, respectively. However, Brazil, ahead of Uruguay and Argentina, leads for LGBT rights.

While the United States places fourth, the authors acknowledge a lack of key data. (Canada is absent altogether.) In particular, the United States has neither the percent living on more than US$4 per day nor enrollment in secondary school, and those would presumably give its score a considerable boost.

The keynote speaker at the public launch, Kevin Casas-Zamora of the Organization of American States (and briefly the vice-president of Costa Rica), noted Nicaragua’s scorecard as a confounding example. At 13th, Nicaragua comes out better than the unstable, violence-stricken nations of Central America’s Northern triangle. However, its advances in political and civic participation are offset by its lack of financial inclusion and LGBT and women’s rights. Nicaragua, Casas-Zamora contended, is only a success story insofar as it doesn’t perform “as badly as we expected.”

Casas-Zamora was also quick to distinguish social inclusion from income and GDP growth, since he claimed the two do not always go together. “Fixation with [income inequality] as a proxy for social inclusion is as inaccurate as using GDP per capita as a proxy for development,” he explained. “Both can be misleading.” For example, he asserted that such data say nothing about citizen security or self-determination. His belief is that the indicators in the Social Inclusion Index — such as civic participation, government responsiveness, and political rights — give us a way to analyze social progress beyond economic metrics.

While the Social Inclusion Index provides a plethora of valuable information, including new indicators this year on the rights of people with disabilities and access to justice, critics can point to limits to both the accuracy and scope of the information compiled. For example, many of the countries analyzed do not even include information on disabilities or race.

In addition, some information may be unreliable, skewed, or lack nuance. For example, certain governments may not report information accurately, or alter data before release. Similarly, violence statistics continue to focus on property crimes and murder, and may turn a blind eye to domestic violence cases. As Judith Morrison from the Inter-American Development Bank said as a panelist at the index launch, qualitative analysis might be more appropriate for some of the data.

Palpably absent from the Social Inclusion Index was Venezuela, which has been in the forefront of Latin-American headlines since fierce repression of protests in February. That has included a crackdown on the press and the jailing and trial of political opponent Leopoldo López. Human rights concerns, partnered with an economic crisis that threatens increasing isolation, would have produced an illuminating social-inclusion scorecard.

Casas-Zamora also hinted at the case of Venezuela in his keynote address:

“I refuse to accept, in the light of Latin America’s recent experience, that the reduction of poverty and the creation of more inclusive societies demands giving up on basic checks and balances, or demolishing any trace of an independent judiciary, or closing down political media outlets, or jailing opponents on trumped up charges, or turning social protests into a crime, or labeling as traitors those who exercise their basic right to dissent,” he said. “Humankind is not simply a herd to be fed.”

Laura Weiss Laura Weiss

Laura Weiss holds a bachelors degree in Hispanic studies from Oberlin College. She has worked at various nonprofits in the United States and Argentina related to Latina women's health, human rights, education, and communications. She also writes for the Huffington Post and can be followed @leweiss105.