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Latin America’s Party Is Over, Now What?

By: Contributor - Sep 15, 2015, 9:55 am
Foreign- and public-policy heavyweights discussed corruption and geopolitical changes at CAF's 19th annual conference. (PanAm Post)
Foreign- and public-policy heavyweights discussed corruption and geopolitical changes at CAF’s 19th annual conference. (PanAm Post)

EspañolLatin America’s commodities party may be over, yet the region’s leaders are far from done fighting for the hemisphere’s future.

The Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) launched its 19th annual conference on Tuesday, September 9, to address the challenges surrounding regional agendas in Latin America.

The two-day event, which took place at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC, was a collaborative effort between the CAF, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Panel discussions engaged over 1,000 world leaders on topics such as regional integration, the growth of the middle class, and even Asia-Latin America relations.

In his opening remarks, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that while “the era of Latin American exports and economic expansion has come to an end,” countries must now translate the economic boom of the previous decade into sustainable development in the years to come.

Humanitarian Crisis

The event’s moderator, CNN anchor Patricia Janot, kick-started the first panel by asking Almagro about Colombia’s recent failure to call a meeting at the OAS to discuss the Venezuelan border crisis. “Why does a general issue [like the border crisis] not generate enough consensus to decide what to do?”

The OAS secretary general answered that similar humanitarian issues involving migrant deportations have occurred in the hemisphere, and that other avenues exist to resolve the issue, such as bilateral solutions.

“You sometimes hear, ‘what is the use of the OAS, if it is not there to mediate?’ But the OAS already has independent organs to deal with such issues in the Court and the Commission,” Almagro argued.

Having recently visited the border, Almagro listed family reunification, improving shelters, the elimination of barbed wire, and the restoration of communities as humanitarian priorities in the area.

The conversation then shifted to transparency and accountability in the region, and the ways in which citizen participation can serve as a catalyst for change.

“Fed Up with the Government”

According to US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, citizens all over the region, from the United States to Brazil, are fed up with the government.

Protests, apathy, and an anti-establishment sentiment in the current fight against corruption are signs of frustration, she contends.

“The people of the hemisphere are mad as hell and will not take it anymore,” Jacobson said, invoking Howard Beale’s speech in the 1976 film Network.

However, she also said that public discontent means nothing if it is not followed by an open, adult conversation regarding accountability among the actors involved.

“Knowing how corruption affects growth and inequality, we need to know [with] who and how we do business,” Jacobson said. “Will we return to business as usual?”

Battling Corruption

Marco Aurélio Garcia, foreign policy advisor to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, says that while corruption in his country is on everyone’s lips, he believes such cases have been investigated properly.

“I don’t want to export anything [solutions], but create [domestic] institutions that can fight corruption,” Garcia said.

He cites the Brazilian Federal Police and the Office of the Comptroller General (CGU) as prime examples, since both agencies lead corruption probes and yet are part of the government.

Garcia, who has worked for both the Rousseff and Luíz Inácio da Silva administrations, told the PanAm Post that each society should decide the economic model that best suits its needs.

“We are at the forefront of democratic societies, with parliaments, elected presidents, political parties, freedom of the press, [and] unions,” Garcia says, adding that if these democratic principles are undermined, society “will enter a crisis.”

Meanwhile, former Panamanian President Martín Torrijos applauded the victory of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in bringing Roxana Baldetti and Otto Pérez Molina to justice.

Torrijos was cautious, however, to say that Guatemala’s case could apply as a one-size-fits-all solution in the region.

“The hazardous cohabitation of politicians and business should not be concerned only with winning elections,” Torrijos said, emphasizing that stakeholders should be able to sit down together to solve domestic crises.