Latin America and the Caribbean in the time of COVID-19: Preventing the vulnerable from falling behind

By Federico Bonaglia, Deputy Director, OECD Development Centre, and Sebastian Nieto Parra, Head of Latin America and the Caribbean Unit, OECD Development Centre


This blog is part of a series on tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19) in developing countries. The OECD is compiling data, information, analysis and recommendations regarding the health, economic, financial and societal challenges posed by the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please visit our dedicated page for a full suite of coronavirus-related information.


Photo by Manuel on Unsplash
Local worker cleans the streets amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Vina del Mar, Chile

The necessary containment measures against COVID-19 have engendered an unprecedented global economic crisis, combining supply and demand side shocks. Now, the pandemic is affecting Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and countries are bracing for the ripple effects. Just months ago, many countries in the region experienced a wave of mass protests driven by deep social discontent, frustrated aspirations, persistent vulnerability and growing poverty. The crisis will exacerbate these problems.

Beyond the magnitude of the impacts on already weak health systems – some 125 million people still lack access to basic health services – the overwhelming socioeconomic impact of the crisis could disproportionately fall on vulnerable and poor households if ambitious policy responses are not put in place. Continue reading

Covid-19: time to unleash the power of international co-operation

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By Mario Pezzini, Director, OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development


This blog is part of a series on tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19) in developing countries. The OECD is compiling data, information, analysis and recommendations regarding the health, economic, financial and societal challenges posed by the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please visit our dedicated page for a full suite of coronavirus-related information.


Development co-operationThe rapid spread of the dire human, social and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis shows just how interconnected we are. International co-operation has become –literally– vital.

A health crisis has set off a global economic crisis, where shocks on the demand and supply sides are combining in an unprecedented scenario. Many developing countries are bracing themselves. While Europe is struggling to contain and cope with a spiralling number of cases and fatalities, the effects in countries where health systems are already weak, economies are highly dependent on global demand, and strict containment policies are more difficult to implement, could be even more disastrous.

Major outbreaks in developing countries could cause the collapse of weak health systems and expose gaps in social protection programmes, especially in Africa, where so many schemes rely on official development assistance. A humanitarian crisis may be in the making: travel restrictions affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and infections in refugee camps – largely hosted in developing countries – will be difficult to fight. The ILO estimates that 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide, possibly more, as the majority of workers in developing countries are in the informal economy. Continue reading

Social discontent in Latin America through the lens of development traps

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By Sebastián Nieto-Parra, Mario Pezzini and Juan Vázquez, OECD Development Centre


This blog is part of an ongoing series evaluating various facets
of 
Development in Transition


LATAM-Social-discontent.jpgUntil recently, rising levels of citizen dissatisfaction with public services and institutions in Latin America might have merely been pictured as an upward line in a graph. However, it seems to have reached a breaking point. Growing social discontent has boiled over into protests across several Latin American countries over the past weeks. While these protests are complex and multifaceted, understanding the underlying causes is essential to defining policy priorities that may help address the structural sources of discontent.

GDP growth is not alone in driving social unrest, as protests have not necessarily taken place in countries with the lowest growth rates or at times of lower economic dynamism, like the 2008 crisis.  Furthermore, income gradually ‘delinks’ from well-being outcomes, as countries move up the income ladder. This has clearly been the case for most Latin American countries since the 2000s (OECD et al., 2019a). Continue reading

Security, violence and fiscal policies in Latin America

By Eduardo Salido Cornejo, Public Affairs and Policy Manager Latam, Telefonica    

Police-Latin-America-ViolenceViolence is a central theme in Latin American popular music. Films and paintings portray well-known tragedies affecting Latin American societies. Art imitates life according to the 2017 Latinobarómetro since Argentinians, Mexicans and Panamanians declare public safety their number one problem. It is second on the list of citizen concerns in Colombia and Venezuela, just behind supply issues in Venezuela and the peace process in Colombia. Violence, crime and insecurity are the region’s main issues ahead of unemployment, economic problems or inequality.

According to data from the Brazilian think tank Igarapé Institute, 33% of all homicides in the world take place in the region, which is home to just 8% of the world’s population. Of the 20 countries with the highest homicide rates, 17 are in Latin America, where 43 out of the world’s 50 most violent cities are located. For every 100 000 inhabitants in Latin America, 21 are murdered, while the world average is seven. In the last decade, the homicide rate in Latin America increased 3.7%, while the population grew 1.1%.1

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Upgrading International Development Cooperation

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By Alicia BarcenaStefano Manservisi and Mario Pezzini

Dev-in-Trans-Barcena-Manservisi-PezziniIn an era when the benefits of multilateralism are being questioned, income inequality is growing, and innovation and technology are transforming how people learn and work, the world needs a more equitable approach to globalization. Can Latin America and the Caribbean offer a way forward?

PARIS – These are hard times for international cooperation. With rising protectionism, burgeoning trade disputes, and a troubling lack of concern for shared interests like climate change, the world seems to be turning its back on multilateralism.

And yet cooperation remains one of our best hopes for addressing humanity’s most complex development-related challenges. Just as the Marshall Plan rebuilt a war-ravaged Europe and the Millennium Development Goals lifted some 471 million people out of extreme poverty, the international development agenda can still deliver results thanks to the combined potential of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the Paris climate agreement.
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Stabilising Argentina’s Public Expenditure

By Dr. Sebastian Galiani, Professor of Economics, University of Maryland 1

development-financeThe present government in Argentina inherited a particularly high level of public spending compared to the country’s own history. Consolidated public expenditure for the three levels of government − nation, province and municipalities − reached 42.2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015. This is an almost 17 point hike from before the 2001-2002 crisis when this expenditure was 25.6% of GDP.

Three areas drove such growth in public spending. First, the public wage bill grew 4.8 points of GDP since 1998 − mainly driven by the provinces and municipalities. Second, pension benefits grew 4.7 points of GDP since 1998. And third, private transfers increased 5.0 points of GDP, of which subsidies to public services represented 3.6% of GDP. In contrast, public investment almost did not grow during 1998 to 2015, at 1.4 points of GDP. The end result was a level of primary spending that is higher than that of all Argentina’s Latin American neighbors, and up to 8 percentage points above what is expected for a country at its level of GDP per capita.

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Reducing violence in El Salvador: What it will take

By Ian Brand-Weiner, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre; Katharina Ross, Project Officer Latin America & Asia, Plan International Deutschland e.V; Francesca Cárdenas, Head of Public Relations, Plan International El Salvador; César Pineda, Grants specialist, Plan International El Salvador

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A young woman is being trained through the Youth Employability and Opportunities initiative.

Violence holds El Salvador’s economic and social development potential hostage. Violence and inequalities often reinforce each other in Latin America: countries with higher levels of inequality tend to have higher rates of intentional homicides (Figure 1). El Salvador, however, stands out. Its homicide rate is disproportionately high compared to its level of inequality. The small Central American country surpassed Honduras and Venezuela in 2015 to become the most violent country in the Americas, with 108 homicides per 100 000 inhabitants.

The violence and its consequences are costing the government, households and enterprises 16% of GDP annually. These costs include expenses for public and private security, extortion, medical treatments, preventing and combating violence, the penitentiary system, and the opportunity costs for those in prison or forced to emigrate. These costs exclude the intangible ones, such as the suffering of victims and their families, the long-term fear and psychological effects impacting their employability and that of future generations, and decreased trust in the community and state.
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