“Latin America, the vision of its leaders” A book by Andrés Rugeles and 100 regional leaders

The Colombian Andrés Rugeles has achieved an almost impossible task: succesfully inviting over a hundred Latin American thought leaders to reflect on the future of the region, above political and ideological differences. The outcome is inscribed in the book “Latin America, the vision of its leaders.”

“A book of this magnitude has not been written in the last half century”, pointed out former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana from a glance at the personalities who participate in it. It is a compendium of voices and visions, often disparate and divergent, with enormous respect among all to build a vision of the future.

Luis Almagro, Ceslo Amorim, Lourdes Casanova, Laura Chinchilla, Ian Goldffajn, Ricardo Lagos, Ricardo Meléndez, Ángela Patricia Janiot, Sebastián Piñera, Francisco Sagasti, Pablo Sanguinetti and 95 more with whom, in addition, Andrés Rugeles managed to maintain a geographical, ideological generational and gender balance, almost always evasive in the region.

The traps

Latin America is caught in four monumental traps: inequality and poverty; low growth and slow productive transformation; environmental difficulties; and institutional weakness.

These traps may perpetuate the problems of the region as it develops at a surprisingly slow pace. Enrique García, former president of CAF – Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean, and José Antonio Ocampo, the economist from Columbia University and currently Executive Secretary of UN’s Economic Commision for Latin America and the Caribbean, agreed with such diagnosis of slow growth during the launch.

A way out is not easy in a world at a crossroads with new risks and difficulties for integration and international insertion, said Andrés Rugeles.

In fact, the book is not a recipe book. “More than that, it is a wake-up call to the leaders of the region. We could be late to catch the development train once again and, indeed, we are about to miss it,” Rugeles said.

In order not to fall behind crucial trends, Latin America has to become an active participant on global issues. “A relevant voice,” he added. In fact, as the former president of Chile Ricardo Lagos points out in the book, today the picture is of an irrelevant and lonesome region.

Numbers confirm such an assessment. Intraregional trade flows, for instance, show Latin America lagging behind other regions, even Africa. In the region, intraregional trade is worth 17% of its total trade, compared to 65% in Europe and 50% in Asia. “This can’t be allowed”.

Too much ideology

Why isn’t a pragmatic and long-term vision created in the region? Because its countries became ideologized, answers Rugeles, summarizing one of the results of his research.

In the task of bringing countries together, it is essential “that governments understand that by politicizing, ideologizing regional integration, everyone loses, no one wins,” he said. Moreover, he observed, citizen interest is wasted. “Seven out of ten people in the region support integration.”

Supply chains across the worlds are in a process of rearrangement. If Latinamericans get serious about integration, they should ride the wave of rearrangements, he suggested. “The U.S. market offers possibilities now. IADB studies show that nearshoring could generate an additional US$78 billion in exports” for Latin America.

For integration to effectively operate, pending tasks require consensus action and long-term vision. These must occur in each country, but it is more easily promoted through regional agreements.

One of such tasks is productive transformation. That is, to highten value of production so that comparative advantages are converted into competitive advantages, he noted. This involves establishing more technology-based companies and ensuring that their production generates employment.

A second task is to promote the development of infrastructure and improve logistics processes. It is difficult to conceive that it is more expensive today to transport goods from Guatemala to Costa Rica than from Guatemala to China, or that freight rates from the port of Buenaventura in Colombia, to Bogotá, are higher than from Buenaventura to a port in China.

Thirdly, is the prerequisite to upskill human capital with capabilities adapted to 21st century exigencies.

Finally, Latin America needs higher levels of savings and investment. The low levels of savings in the region make foreign investment indispensable. Andrés Rugeles emphasized the central role of multilateral banking in order to attract international investors. During the launch, former president of CAF, Enrique García, agreed. He observed that multilaterals not only lend money that countries lack, but also serve as catalysts to bring funds from global investors to the projects that require them.

Effectively advancing the tasks above and growing rapidly, makes it necessary to understand and agree on the structural reforms that must be undertaken. But additionally, to attentively watch what is happening in the world, “to quit staring at ourselves in a narcissistic mode,” he proposed.

Furthermore, the time has come to have a voice, possibly in an context of agreements with the rest of the global South. “Trascending a Washington Consensus, we could strive for a Global South Consensus, one that includes those elements of productive transformation”.

A public good

Andrés Rugeles hopes that the reflections around his book will become a sort of regional public good. Additionally, he has already granted it a social function. Royalties from the sale will go to a foundation that works on children’s health and recreational issues. An ideal stance to accompany the dissemination of ideas.


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