Latin America “cannot escape” from the “development trap” that COVID-19 threatens to intensify

UNDP points to high inequality and low growth as factors that perpetuate the situation

Public policy is “captured” and the concentration of power “distorts and reinforces the trap,” says a report


The concentration of power, violence in all its forms and inefficient social protection systems are the elements that reinforce and perpetuate the “development trap” in which Latin America is immersed, from which it “has not been able to escape” and that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to intensify.

This is stated in the 2021 regional human development report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) presented this Tuesday, which under the name ‘Trapped: high inequality and low growth in Latin America and the Caribbean’, analyzes how the crisis The coronavirus disease has revealed “the political, economic and social fragility” that prevails in the region.

High inequality and low growth are part of the Latin American context, which despite decades of progress, is at risk due to the situation derived from the health crisis, which has made the region the most affected by the coronavirus in the world, with about a third of total deaths from COVID-19, when it only represents 9 percent of the world’s population.

To this, the regional director of UNDP in Latin America and the Caribbean, Luis Felipe López-Calva, has specified, the agency’s concern about the “enormous polarization” must be added, which has also increased with the wide electoral cycle in the region, with many countries renewing their authorities.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the second most unequal region in the world, in addition to the fact that the countries in the region are more unequal than others with similar levels of development, a characteristic that acquires a multidimensional nuance to go beyond income.

In this sense, women still find the playing field uneven in the labor market, while LGTBI + people face discrimination in many aspects of their lives and ethnic and racial minorities lack recognition as agents. active economic and political.

The present inequality is compounded by very volatile and low economic growth, associated in turn with low productivity, as well as highly informal labor markets, in which most workers do not have protection such as social security or assistance, factors that they also help perpetuate the trap.

In this context, it is necessary to have public policies that guarantee the entire population exposed to some type of risk coverage under the same program – without differences – that these programs are also financed in the same way and that the benefits that are delivered in kind have the same quality, for example, that the public and private health system are equivalent, concludes the report of the UN agency.

Faced with this situation, “understanding the nature of the trap of high inequality and low growth is the first step to free yourself from it,” said the head of UNDP in Latin America and the Caribbean, Marcela Meléndez, at a press conference.


Another consequence derived from inequality is that it encourages criminal, political and social violence in the region, which is the most violent in the world, where the most vulnerable are affected “disproportionately”, which in turn contributes to “perpetuate and amplify inequality in various aspects of human development, including rights, income, health, education and political representation.”

But not only in terms of rights this circumstance influences, but it also affects economic growth “through its impact on people, companies, communities and institutions.”

Violence is, therefore, “an important underlying factor in Latin America’s low-growth and inequality trap, and its eradication” requires activating public policy in several areas, “while” more and better data “are needed to understand the phenomena of violence and be able to articulate measures to end it, has asserted Meléndez.

“The table at which decisions are made has to be more inclusive to ensure that policies respond to certain principles,” López-Calva added.


Another issue that the report addresses and analyzes is the perception that Latin Americans themselves have of the inequality that afflicts their region, to detail that, in effect, “people know how unequal society is and consider it unfair”. since they not only perceive injustice in income levels, but also in access to basic services and the guarantees of their rights.

Likewise, citizens feel “frustrated” by the injustice in the processes, especially by “the great political influence that a few powerful groups have” over the rest of society, the report states. There is also a high level of frustration due to the great political influence that few powerful people have, since they think that “in their countries a small group governs that does so following their interests,” Meléndez has detailed.

On the other hand, public policy is “captured” by more influential groups, a concentration of power that “distorts and reinforces the trap,” added López-Calva, while this concentration also occurs in the economic and commercial sphere. it materializes in monopolies that contribute to high inequality and low growth.

To face this critical situation, “comprehensive policies” are necessary, since it is a “trap” in which the problems “are related”, and if it continues to be partially addressed, “we will continue to have solutions that are only to deepen these problems “, has warned López-Calva.

Something that is linked to the importance of “better understanding the nature of the trap, because understanding is the way to get rid of it”, concluded Meléndez.

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