(23 July 2013) Speaking at the CELAC social summit in Caracas on Tuesday 23 July, the main themes tackled by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) were the challenge of reducing the high levels of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the need for a structural change to improve citizens' access to goods and services.
Ms. Bárcena took part in the 1st Meeting of Social Development Ministers and Authorities to eradicate hunger and poverty of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was also attended by the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elías Jaua, the Vice-President of the Venezuelan Council of Ministers for Social Affairs, Héctor Rodríguez, the country's Minister of Labour and Social Development, María Cristina Iglesias, and the FAO representative for Latin America, Raúl Osvaldo Benítez.
At the meeting, ministers and government authorities approved the plan of action for eradicating poverty and hunger, which will be the central theme of the CELAC summit due to be held in Cuba next year.
Alicia Bárcena presented the document Structural Perspectives on the Inequalities in Latin America and the Caribbean, which further explores the case ECLAC puts forward in Time for equality: Closing gaps, opening trails. The new document emphasizes that equality is the guiding principle of a paradigm change in Latin America and the Caribbean, one that involves disseminating the development of capacities, labour opportunities and access to social protection networks and benefits throughout the social fabric, as well as the participation of the widest range of stakeholders in making this possible.
In her address, the Executive Secretary underlined that inequality manifests itself in many social dimensions such as income distribution, social protection coverage and the quality of education or the labour market.
The region currently has significant gaps in education, in terms of both access and quality. Productivity gaps involve disparities in employment quality, and these in turn lead to segregated access to social protection. According to Ms. Bárcena "Placing equality at the heart of the matter is a break with the economic paradigm that has prevailed in the region for at least three decades".
This break places the political dimension at the centre. There is a need for social covenants that ensure willingness and sustainability for this development option. Today, persistently high levels of inequality in Latin America go hand in hand with a deep mistrust of institutions and strongly perceived injustice.
According to the document, it is vital to link political institutions, public agencies, business agents, workers and other civil society actors. For Ms. Bárcena, "there is a two-way relationship between structural change, equality and political legitimacy".
The senior official's presentation underscored the importance of growth for equality, and of equality for growth, using macroeconomic policies to encourage investment, industrial policies that strengthen sectors, and environmental sustainability to change production and consumption patterns.
The document also states that the favourable historical situation currently being experienced by many Latin American and Caribbean countries is in step with this paradigm change. The region's States and governments are more willing to engage with social investment, redistributive mechanisms and rights-based policies.
The CELAC social summit enabled participants to exchange experiences on education, health and food programmes implemented in the region, as well as to formulate proposals in these areas.
CELAC, which is made up of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, was set up in Venezuela in December 2011. The organization's rotating presidency is currently held by Cuba, and the main axes of its 2014 action plan are social issues and the fight against inequality.
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