The importance of digitalization for designing and implementing people-centered public policies and as a path for Latin America and the Caribbean’s sustainable development was emphasized today by participants in the inauguration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is taking place in Montevideo, Uruguay through this Friday, November 18.
The Conference – organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in conjunction with the Government of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, through the National Agency for e-Government and the Information Society (AGESIC) – aims to define a set of policy priorities at the regional level to drive digital transformation with a vision of sustainable development, in the framework of the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC 2024).
The inauguration featured the participation of Rodrigo Ferrés, Deputy Secretary of the Presidency of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay; José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC; Pablo Ruiz Hiebra, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uruguay; and Hebert Paguas, Executive Director of AGESIC.
Deputy Secretary Rodrigo Ferrés welcomed those present on behalf of the Uruguayan government, emphasized the State’s role in designing public policies that take people’s needs into account, and stressed the cross-cutting nature of digital technologies and digitalization. “The issues that we will address at this meeting, especially digitalization, which is making more and better progress all the time, entail very well-conceived, and very necessary, instruments, which must be used in the best possible way, taking into account public purposes, the general interest and people’s rights,” he stated.
Hebert Paguas of AGESIC outlined the country’s progress in the various areas of digitalization and indicated that these experiences will be a contribution to the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean eLAC2024, which is being discussed in Montevideo. “We want more agile services for our country and the region, with people at the center,” Paguas said, stressing the need to make headway on digital citizenship and the digital transformation.
“Talking about the future means talking about information, science, changes in work, the fourth industrial revolution. We at the UN office in Uruguay will work with the government and all sectors of society on the efforts the country must undertake to make the definitive leap to development,” sustained Pablo Ruiz Hiebra, UN Resident Coordinator in Uruguay.
In a complex global and regional context, in which multiple crises are converging, “digitalization is one of the priority areas for transforming the development model of Latin America and the Caribbean,” said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, adding that “to be able to move towards a true process of digital inclusion, a set of actions and policies are needed that would facilitate the use and adoption of digital technologies in all segments of the population, businesses and government institutions.”
Between 2014 and 2023, the region will experience the lowest growth in the last seven decades (0.8%), lower than what was recorded in the “lost decade” of the 1980s due to the debt crisis, ECLAC’s highest authority warned. “We must work both on reducing inequality as well as creating wealth, which involves productive development policies and, very importantly, policies for digital transformation,” stated José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, who called for strengthening the positive effects of digital technologies and addressing the challenges in terms of inequality, privacy, security, competition and data protection.
“The Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean, eLAC, which turns 17 years old today, has created enormous capacities in terms of dialogue and cooperation and its agreements were crucial for consolidating a shared vision regarding the mechanisms needed to enhance the impact of digital technologies on development,” he affirmed.
After the opening session, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary presented the document A digital path for sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be discussed by the representatives of government, the private sector, the technical community and civil society who are participating in the regional gathering.
The senior official explained that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitalization in the region and emphasized that the State has been a great driver of digital transformation; however, persistent gaps in connectivity condition social inclusion.
In 2021, fixed broadband reached almost 62% of Latin American and Caribbean households on average, placing the region well below other regions such as North America and Europe, which have penetration rates of close to 100% and 90%, respectively. The differences are also significant in the case of mobile broadband, which reaches 78% of the population in the region, versus 105% and nearly 150% in the respective cases of Europe and North America.
José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs noted that 1/4 of urban households and 2/3 of rural households still need to be connected. In the region, there are three times as many households with no connection in the lowest-income quintile than there are in the highest-income quintile, he said.
Currently in the region, half of all young people between 13 and 25 years of age “are not connected,” along with 1/3 of all children from 5 to 12 years of age and 1/4 of adults over the age of 66.
Industrialized countries put digitalization at the center of productive development policies, emphasized José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, who mentioned five areas of action that ECLAC proposes for sustainable and inclusive digitalization in the region: 1) generating enabling conditions (which means broadening service coverage, ensuring effective universal connectivity, speeding up the deployment of advanced mobile networks, such as 5G, and developing digital skills); 2) developing digital solutions; 3) fostering a digital transformation (favoring, for example, entrepreneurship and innovation and promoting the digitalization of companies); 4) establishing digital governance; and 5) strengthening regional cooperation and integration (pursuing a regional digital market, among other things).
The panels of the Ministerial Conference will address issues such as investment, infrastructure and connectivity; governance and regulation and a regional digital market; innovation, entrepreneurship and digital transformation; digitalization for greater inclusion; competences and skills for societies in transformation; cybersecurity and critical assets; digital trade and SMEs; green transition in a digital world; smart cities; digital government and citizen participation; and cooperation and strategic alliances for a new digitalization, among other topics.