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The Digital Revolution Has Revitalized Democracy, but a Governance that Safeguards Citizens’ Interests is Imperative

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29 May 2019|Press Release

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, concluded an official visit to Berlin, Germany today upon participating in the Future Affairs 2019 conference, where she addressed the future of democracy in the context of the digital revolution. Earlier in the day, she held a bilateral meeting with the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, with whom she discussed details of the regional commission’s next session, which will take place in May 2020 in San José.


Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC's Executive Secretary, during her presentation.
Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC's Executive Secretary, during her presentation.
Photo: ECLAC.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, today urged for forging a new digital governance that safeguards the interests of the majority over those of minorities, generates greater equality vis-à-vis the technological revolution, and puts an end to the culture of privilege.

The senior United Nations official participated today in the Future Affairs 2019 conference, organized by the German Federal Foreign Office and re:publica, where she made an introductory presentation to panel 3 on “Democracy & Digitization: Will Democracy Survive the Digital Revolution?”

During her presentation, Alicia Bárcena stressed that the world is experiencing tectonic changes of such magnitude that they outstrip our capacity for temporal and spatial thought. “Climate change is one example of this,” she indicated.

ECLAC’s highest representative added that there is a great degree of concentration that creates privileges and provokes major technological asymmetries on a global level.

She specified that globally seven companies alone – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba and WeChat – generate $5.2 trillion dollars in earnings, more than double the Gross Domestic Product of Brazil ($2 trillion dollars) and just below the GDP of all of Latin America and the Caribbean ($5.4 trillion dollars).

“A handful of companies and governments are accessing and appropriating our information, they are illegally tapping into our brains, our preferences, our daily lives. Companies and governments are working with our data to influence our lives as consumers, citizens and voters,” she indicated.

Bárcena noted that there is growing social discontent and deep mistrust of both national and multilateral institutions.

She added that multilateral institutions and rules must provide support to the diffuse demands of the many versus the concentrated demands of the few. They must protect the rights of minorities and of the most vulnerable groups subject to discrimination, and produce more favorable conditions for democratic deliberation by increasing the capacities of stakeholders, the diversity of viewpoints, and the transparency of debates.

“We must change the conversation, concerning ourselves with the public interest, public goods, furthering the interests of the majority and ensuring that this digital disruption does not affect democracy or multilateralism,” she stated.

Alicia Bárcena indicated that technology holds promise but also risks entailed by, among other factors, uncertainty with regard to the profound changes in the world of work associated with processes of destruction and creation of jobs and occupations, and with regard to the readjustment of productive sectors stemming from the incorporation of new technologies such as the robotization and automation of processes that imply a reduction in repetitive labor tasks and, especially, artificial intelligence with new forms of organizing work that may contribute to making it more precarious.

She also warned about the crisis of multilateralism that has affected international cooperation and prompted growing unilateralism and more intense geopolitical rivalry.

“The link between democracy, multilateralism and international cooperation is essential for moving towards sustainable development with equality,” she stressed.

Earlier in the day, Alicia Bárcena held a bilateral meeting with the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, with whom she addressed details regarding the next session of ECLAC, which will be held in May 2020 in San José and will focus on the central theme of the Environmental Big Push, on which Costa Rica has made relevant progress.

They also reviewed cooperation underway in the areas of implementation of the 2030 Agenda and bioeconomics, and they shared ideas for collaboration in the framework of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP 25, which will take place in Chile on December 2-13, with a preparatory meeting due to be held in Costa Rica on October 8-9.

Also participating in the meeting were Costa Rica’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Manuel E. Ventura; the Minister of Science and Technology, Luis Adrián Salazar; the Director of Foreign Policy, Miguel Obregón; and the Ambassador of Costa Rica in Germany, Lydia Peralta. On behalf of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena was accompanied by the Deputy Executive Secretary for Management and Program Analysis, Raúl García-Buchaca, and the Chief of the Project Management Unit of the Program Planning and Operations Division, Gerardo Mendoza.

During this three-day official mission to Berlin, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary participated in numerous events and held bilateral meetings with a view to sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean.

On Monday, May 27, she met with Norbert Barthle, the Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of Germany, and signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Christiane Bögemann-Hagedorn, the BMZ’s Deputy Director General for Latin America.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, May 28, she spoke at the Latin America-Caribbean Conference. Later that same day, she held bilateral meetings with the Foreign Minister of Honduras, María Dolores Agüero, and Germany’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Niels Annen, among other senior authorities.