Despite setbacks due to the recent global economic slowdown, Latin America generally enjoyed a good first decade of the twenty-first century, stated Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza in a flagship address to the Diplomatic Forum at the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) in January. Latin America and the Caribbean have generally enjoyed a period of strong political, economic and social growth, which has brought a new sense of optimism to the region. The Organisation of American States (OAS) has seen democracy rise unquestionably in the region, with all member states having legitimate governments and recognising democratic values not only as an aspiration but also as a right. Nevertheless, he warned, challenges of economic growth, inequality, the quality of government, environmental protection and integration remain if development in Latin America is to maintain its momentum.
Secretary Insulza was visiting London as a guest of the LAD following a successful presentation to the permanent members of the OAS at their headquarters in Washington by LAD’s Director, Professor Joseph Mifsud last November. They also signed a cooperation agreement between their respective institutions to strengthen education and human development by sharing resources and training activities in the area of development, education and diplomacy.
“Democracy is not a continuous process,” said Secretary Insulza. “It is characterised by periods of development, punctuated by flaws and setbacks. Nevertheless,” he continued, “whereas the period from 1995 to 2005 was marked by many governments failing to complete their terms of office due to coups d’etat (not many), impeachment or other severe upheavals, the period from 2005 to 2015 has been a period of much greater democratic stability.”
Latin America has been of particular international focus most recently, with the thaw in US-Cuba relations and political protests, such as those in Haiti, making headlines. The role of the OAS has therefore been increasingly vital in promoting solidarity, supporting and strengthening collaboration amongst its 35 member states.
For Secretary Insulza, the announcement of an easing in relations between the US and Cuba was “the best news” of the year and a step in the right direction. He applauded the fact that, as observed through the actions of Cuba and the US, the two countries have shown in the past month that they are willing to follow through with commitments that they have made.
He pointed out that Cuba had been re-admitted to the OAS in 2009 after its exclusion in 1962 as a member of the ‘Sino-Soviet Pact’ of communist states, and relations had steadily improved between Cuba and member states since then. Regardless of the Latin America’s successes, he warned, much remained to be done, in particular the four great challenges to democracy, which was the key theme of his address.
THE CHALLENGE OF MAINTAINING SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
Despite years of growth, the first challenge remains achieving sustainable growth, which should be supported by good economic policies. Growth has been sustained hitherto largely by high commodity prices and foreign investment. However, the fall in commodity prices worldwide poses challenges to economic stability and hence to the continuance of the democratic process. What Latin America needs is greater domestic investment, better infrastructure, better education and a revitalisation of the regional economic trade groups, such as Mercosur and Caricom, which have stagnated in recent years. Also, perhaps, an upper class more prone to consumption than to investment. Latin America is not yet fully intergrated into global trade, and local regional domestic investment is a key to ensuring growth and political stability. Balancing international trade and commodity exports and creating an internal market based on manufacturing is a key to sustainable development.