Latin America and the Caribbean needs new social and fiscal compacts to build universal, inclusive, resilient and sustainable social protection systems that would allow for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and the overall context of disasters in the region, according to the representatives participating in the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, co-organized virtually by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), along with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
The regional meeting was inaugurated by Dean Jonas, Minister of Social Transformation, Human Resource Development and the Blue Economy of Antigua and Barbuda; Javier May, Secretary of Welfare of Mexico; Luis Felipe López-Calva, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNDP; and Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, who subsequently presented the document entitled Disasters and inequality in a protracted crisis: Towards universal, comprehensive, resilient and sustainable social protection systems in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean presents a unique opportunity for us to critically and honestly reflect on and assess the progress we have made in our respective countries and as a region in relation to social protection. We must not take this opportunity for granted,” said Minister Dean Jonas of Antigua and Barbuda, calling on countries to be “proactive and innovative” in order to achieve a transformative recovery in the framework of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In his remarks, the minister not only warned about Caribbean countries’ high degree of vulnerability to the effects of climate change, in a context of heavy indebtedness; he also flagged the overall rise in inflation, which has a major impact on the most disadvantaged populations. To address these challenges, he emphasized that it is necessary to foster strategic trade between the region’s countries and transform social protection systems to move towards more inclusive and egalitarian societies.
Meanwhile, Mexican Secretary of Welfare Javier May pointed up the work carried out by the Regional Conference on Social Development since the Third Session held in Mexico City in 2019, when participants approved the Regional Agenda for Inclusive Social Development (RAISD). The current context of crisis, he said, forces us to propose new public policies for social protection that include agile methods for rebuilding territories and are centered on people’s lives. In his view, the region’s countries should revise the RAISD since “the critical constraints of social development are not static, and we have the historic responsibility of addressing the causes of poverty, social emergencies, violence, marginalization, racism and injustice.”
An example of his country’s commitment to regional cooperation for tackling these challenges is the creation of a fund for comprehensive disaster response, formalized last September 18 during the most recent Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the pro tempore Chair of which is held by the Government of Mexico, explained May, who handed over the Chair of the Regional Conference to Minister Dean Jonas of Antigua and Barbuda.
“In these times of heightened uncertainty, effective governance is key to managing risks. This requires a new social contract that can collectively manage risks, with sustainable and universal protection systems for a more resilient and equitable economy, and that can foster productivity,” stated Luis Felipe López-Calva, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The pandemic has become a multidimensional disaster,” said Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary. Although it began as a health emergency, it quickly transformed into the worst economic crisis in the last 100 years, with severe effects on women; children, adolescents and youth; and indigenous and Afro-descendent populations. But this is not the only cause for concern in the region, Bárcena clarified: “We also have disasters of geological and hydrometeorological origin and the effects of climate change.”
The Fourth Session of the Regional Conference on Social Development is taking place in an overall context of disasters, the senior international official warned, citing the droughts that are having serious consequences in the Central American Dry Corridor, in the Paraná river basin or in the Southern Cone, and the devastating hurricane season that has lashed the Caribbean, along with continual earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
“This is an ideal occasion to amplify the voice of the Caribbean and its specificities, challenges and lessons learned, placing it at the center of social development in the region,” ECLAC’s highest authority emphasized.
According to Bárcena, COVID-19 brought to the forefront the importance of developing universal, inclusive, resilient and sustainable social protection systems to achieve a transformative recovery with equality and sustainability. To that end, she reiterated, new social and fiscal compacts must be carried forward.
The social compacts should be geared towards promoting the culture of equality and giving legitimacy to structural reforms and transformative policies with a rights-based approach, so as to achieve a care society, with cohesion and participation, as a permanent part of democratic culture, she stated. The fiscal contracts must finance social investment with financial sustainability, with progressive tax policies that would allow for increasing the revenue coming from those who have the most concentrated wealth, she added.
“It is necessary for the region to persist in its efforts towards a robust social institutional framework, financially sustainable social protection systems, regional integration and international cooperation,” Bárcena concluded.
The Fourth Session of the Regional Conference will feature four panels that will address issues such as disasters and social protection in the Caribbean; proposals for a transformative rebuilding, with resilience and inclusion; and institutional opportunities and challenges for moving towards a universal, comprehensive, sustainable and resilient social protection system.