After almost a decade of economic growth – growth that has helped lift millions out of poverty – the past couple of years have been challenging for Latin America. Two consecutive years of recession have taken their toll, and changes at the international level have led to even more uncertainty.
It’s against this backdrop that 1,000 leaders from business, government and civil society are meeting in Buenos Aires for the 12th World Economic Forum on Latin America. These are some of the highlights from the first full day.
Latin America has seen it all before
The rise of populism across North America and Europe has been making headlines in the Western world, but for Latin America, it’s all too familiar. And they know that it doesn’t work.
“When you promise people things you can’t deliver, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Felipe Larraín Bascuñán, of Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Catolica, told participants in the first session of the day.
“I would rather lose an election by telling the truth than deceiving people by making false promises,” he added.
In a separate session, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri echoed these sentiments, speaking of the disappointment many people in his country have been left with after the Kirchner administration. “Argentinians have had to deal with years of frustration and unkept promises.” His job now, he said, was to channel those frustrations into something more positive.
Another hot topic in the West that’s giving Latin Americans a sense of déjà vu? Fake news.
“All this talk of a ‘post-truth’ reality is nothing new,” one participant pointed in a session in the morning. “The US now has a president who attacks the media, but in Latin America we know this – Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner did it every day.”
But while it might be familiar, this time is different, largely because of the new technologies available. “We’re over-estimating the newness of this, but we’re not over-estimating the impact,” said Felipe Estefan of Omidyar Network, a social enterprise that has committed $100 million to fighting fake news.
This digital revolution is having an impact far beyond the media industry. While almost every participant at the meeting spoke of the unrivalled opportunities this revolution will create, they also recognized that the transition won’t be easy.
“In the short term, we have a lot to fear,” Ricardo Luna Mendoza, Peru’s minister of foreign affairs warned.
If there’s one part of life that is being completely turned on its head by this revolution, it’s the world of work.
“Old white collar jobs will be destroyed or they will start to pay less,” Susana Malcorra, the Minister of Foreign affairs and worship of Argentina, warned. And while new roles will be created, that’s little comfort to those without the necessary skills.
“For those who have been making cars, for example, do you think they can suddenly become IT professionals,” questioned James Z. Li of McKay & Co.”
For Latin America – a region with the world’s biggest skills gap – this issue will be one of the defining ones for many years to come.
Things are looking up
But despite all the uncertainty brought on both by international events and the digital revolution, the day ended on a positive note: after two years of negative economic growth, things are starting to look up for Latin America.
“The region is pulling out of recession,” David Lipton of the International Monetary Fund predicted. “The region has the chance to make important strides.”
More updates on the liveblog.