The XVIII Annual Conference of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Dialogue opened today in Washington DC with the participation of OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza; CAF President Enrique García; and the President of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter.
Secretary General Insulza stressed at the ceremony that the association created for the annual conference "has generated a forum for dialogue, a place where we gather to present interesting ideas and exchange views and analysis on key issues for the region." Insulza added that the event "is the best way to mark the start of the business year for many of us", and highlighted the level of debate and assistance that has characterized the event since its inception.
The leader of the Hemispheric organization said that, from his perspective, inter-American relations today are more relevant than ever. "I do not think we should divide the Hemisphere from the point of view of different perspectives or regions or social or ideological areas," he said and stressed the importance of cooperating to build consensus and to establish a meaningful exchange between countries. "This is a significant forum where we discuss how to work together on issues like the ones we are discussing today," he said. He also expressed his willingness to continue participating in the regional conference in 2015 once he finished his second term at the helm of OAS and consequently leaves office.
For his part, CAF President Enrique Garcia recounted the history and growth of the annual conference that brings together experts, politicians, analysts and hemispheric leaders, emphasizing that the event provides a forum for discussion to address the most important issues of the inter-American agenda. "This year we have a very interesting program that refers to current world issues, the challenges of the region, elections, economy, Hemispheric and regional integration, and the role of women in development, among others," he explained.
The President of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter, welcomed the conference attendees by emphasizing the high level of participation. He also referred to how the conference has grown over recent years, in line with its economic and social commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean. "This meeting has generated increasing enthusiasm over the years, it has acquired a special interest among us and has helped us to understand that the region can only be interpreted within a global context," he said, recalling that the panels to be held over the two-day-event will seek to "provide an opportunity to hear different voices and perspectives, and to analyze in depth the direction where this region is heading to."
Keynote Speaker: Felipe Calderón
The main speaker of the day was former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, who performed a comprehensive analysis of the economic growth in the Americas in the last decade and then focused on the experience of his mandate. Referring to the causes and challenges of regional growth, he said that the so called "decade of Latin America" was marked by globalization and global economic expansion, and that in that context the economies of the region benefited from the role of China as a major purchaser of commodities from Latin America and the Caribbean.
In analyzing economic trends in the region, Calderón advocated for fostering markets less dependent on commodities and greater emphasis on value added markets. He also noted the importance of focusing on improving competitiveness, which he linked to open and less restricted economies. "The lack of openness and excessive dependence on commodity exports should make us cautious in stating that it was the decade of Latin America," he said.
The former Mexican president stressed some of the economic and social measures taken during his administration, between 2006 and 2012, including several free trade agreements; programs to support small and medium size enterprises; reducing import tariffs and other regulatory barriers; universal health coverage; and development of infrastructure, which served for the country to achieve significant growth in the midst of one of the worst worldwide crises.
In relation to the challenges facing the region, Calderon stressed that democracy and the rule of law are crucial for development, among other reasons, because of the close correlation between the institutional framework brought by a strong and entrenched Rule of Law and the economic growth of a country. "For developing countries is essential to transform the institutional framework so that Rule of law can be applied and therefore uncertainty can be removed, which is the most important factor for economic growth and job creation," he said.
He also stressed the need to promote human development, investment in infrastructure and implementation of the commitment to sustainable development. Moreover, he commented on the challenges of violence, fighting crime, defending human rights and the work to decrease the homicide rate in the region. "Latin America is currently caught between the past and the future, a past that includes protectionism, authoritarianism, and nationalism, all of which are failing," he said.
First panel: "Cuba at the crossroads: what to expect“
The first panel of the conference brought together a group of experts to discuss Cuba and the expectations about its future under the question: "Cuba at the Crossroads: what to expect?" Juan Trianda, Professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, indicated that changes in the Cuban economy began two and a half years ago, when President Raul Castro proposed "reforms to the economy never seen before." However, Triana said, "when reviewing the numbers, we see that the Cuban economy is not growing," so that while "many measures have been taken, they are not enough."
The chief economist of the World Bank's Latin America and Caribbean Division, Augusto de la Torre, said that "monetary distortion" is “the elephant in the room, and is a huge problem in Cuba”, because “it has great complications at the technical level and also has an enormous impact on the political level." De la Torre said its key for Cuba to get rid of this "double exchange rate system, which consists of a system of subsidies and transfers". In order to move forward, he added, a tax reform is also required, which should be carried out gradually.
Meanwhile, Richard Feinberg, professor at the University of California at San Diego, said the Cuban economy has changed substantially in the last ten years, and as an example he said there are half a million people working in the private sector. Feinberg said the state bureaucracy, particularly in the military, slows the changes to expand private sector participation in the economy.
Carlos Saladrigas, Chairman and CEO of the human resources company Regis HR Group, outlined the measures taken by the administration of President Barack Obama to ease policy toward Cuba. Saladrigas described as "positive" the changes implemented by the Obama Administration, especially allowing travel from the United States to the Caribbean country and the sending of remittances.
The Director of the Americas Program of the Carter Center, Jennifer McCoy, focused on the debate on the participation of Cuba at the Summit of the Americas 2015, to be held in Panama. McCoy noted that there is a division in the region on this issue, with the United States and Canada opposing Cuba's inclusion and the rest of the region supporting it. McCoy predicted that, in her view, Cuba would end up participating in the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.