The first decade of the new millennium was good to Latin America: poverty rates fell, a solid middle class was born, economies were booming. And then progress stalled. Today, the region even runs the risk of going into reverse.
How can Latin America reignite growth – and, more importantly, make sure that growth benefits all? That’s the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum on Latin America in Medellín. Here are some highlights from Day 1.
The meeting started with the presidents of two Latin American success stories: Colombia and Argentina.
In a conversation that covered everything from falling commodity prices to investment gaps, both leaders were in agreement: it has not been easy for the region to adapt to this new normal.
“The adjustment has been difficult,” President Juan Manuel Santos told participants. And some of Latin America’s most vulnerable people have had to pay the price. “There are shameful differences between the haves and have-notes in Latin America,” Santos added.
So far, the policies put in place have failed to deliver on their promise, President Mauricio Macri – who came to power in Argentina at the end of the year – noted. But that’s starting to change.
Ending decades of conflict
Another big change for the region could come about in a matter of weeks, the Colombian president said in a session later in the day. “We want to end the last armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere – and we hope to do so as soon as possible,” Santos told participants.
The conflict has had enormous economic and financial costs, but Santos spoke about his hopes that a peace deal will turn things around: “We need to start healing the wounds from a war that has lasted this long.”
The war on drugs
A different conflict has been even more destructive than the ongoing strife in Colombia: the war on drugs.
“The war on drugs has been very costly for Latin America,” Rafael Fernández de Castro of the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico explained as he introduced a briefing on the issue.
For Ilona Szabó de Carvalho of the Igarapé Institute, an organization that takes a data-driven approach to tackling some of society’s biggest challenges, it’s not so much drugs that are the problem. It’s drugs policies.
“We should never have dealt with drugs as a criminal issue – drugs are a health issue. If we had realized that long ago, we would not have the problems we have today.”
Medellín: a city transformed
Inequality, conflict, a failed war on drugs: not encouraging signs for the region. But as enormous as these challenges are, Latin America can overcome them. For proof, all you have to do is look to the meeting’s host city of Medellín.
Once the most dangerous city in the region, today it is a model of urban transformation. “Thirty years ago, this would have been impossible. Today, we are a benchmark for the world,” Alejandro Franco Restrepo, who has helped oversee this transformtion, said in a briefing on the topic.
“In 1991, we were the most violent city in the world,” Medellín’s Mayor Federico Gutiérrez explained. “Nobody thought we had a future.” Now that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Follow the liveblog for more updates from the meeting.