A number of Latin American economies are on a downward spiral, commodity prices have plummeted, there are security issues, corruption and deficient schools.
But the vast region also is resource-rich, has talented entrepreneurs and has seen a reduction in poverty over the past decade.
More than 250 leaders — government officials, financiers, entrepreneurs and corporate executives from around the region — are meeting in Miami at the LATAM Leaders Forum to discuss Latin America’s problems as well as its potential.
The goal of the two-day Forum, which ends Friday, is to create a road map for sustainable development, said Greg Barton, chief executive of BNamericas, the provider of Latin American business intelligence and data that organized the event at the East Hotel.
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During a time of great disruptions in the Americas, “there is a need for debate,” Barton said Thursday. “The region must rethink its existing economic, educational and business paradigms.”
Some 50 speakers from more than 20 countries have been assembled to discuss topics ranging from humanizing the economy, the need for private participation in financing, connecting small and medium enterprises to large businesses, following Asia’s path to globalization, reforming education, developing talent, the digital transformation, intelligent cities and best practices around the region.
“I believe Latin America is entering a critical time, a ground-breaking moment,” said Guatemalan Economy Minister Rubén Morales Monroy. Although Guatemala has been averaging 3.8 percent growth — better than many economies in the region — last year it was rocked by a corruption scandal that led to the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina.
But, Morales said, economic growth shouldn’t just be a number like 3.8 percent. The focus in Guatemala now, he said, is how the individual will benefit from growth. “Guatemala is a completely different country that it was last year,” said Morales.
One of the keys to breaking the boom-and-bust cycle and creating sustainable development, said Barton, will be creating an educated workforce.
Even though there has been a reduction in poverty and the Latin American middle class has grown over the past decade, “there are still a lot of gaps in inequality” that must be addressed, said Bernardo Guillamon, who heads the Office of Strategic Alliances at the Inter-American Development Bank.
In many countries of the region, the state has played a major role in economic and social development. But the drop in commodity prices means many governments find themselves with less money in their coffers to finance projects.
However, such fiscal deficits and poor planning set the stage for the private sector to jump in and get involved in financing. “Money is not the problem, but we need to create the mechanisms for the flow of money to projects,” said Ryuta Suzuki, an executive with the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation.