Over the past decade, Latin America has generally performed well. Regional economic growth has been fairly robust, averaging 5.5 per cent from 2003-2008 and bouncing back from the global downturn better than most experts anticipated. Politically, several countries have made important democratic strides. And in contrast to the wave of market reforms in the 1990s, when the Washington Consensus held sway, governments have sought to complement pragmatic approaches to economic growth with an increased emphasis on the social agenda and the inclusion of marginalized groups, through programs like conditional cash transfers. Sound policymaking and deepening concern with social disparities have resulted in reductions in the levels of poverty and even, in a number of cases, inequality.
Ironically while economies have functioned relatively well creating a new middle class and lower poverty levels it has created an expectation of more and better especially amongst this newly affluent population and those who want to join it.
This tension or what I call social warming that has led to large protests in some countries the growth of gangs and criminal organizations in others and a general perception that governments are not responding to citizens needs and expectations. Latinobarometro.
The region is not monolithic so it is hard to generalize: some countries have grown exponentially without the necessary infrastructure to manage and sustain these expectations others are struggling to catch up. One thing we do have in common is a youth cohort that is globally connected, aware, that is looking for access to opportunities and services – and is not shy about demanding it.
Obviously demographics needs to form part of our public policy discussion this large youth cohort should be a dividend not the deficit it seem to have become. The latest UNDP study on Security in the Americas tells a gripping story that 80% of the hard crimes are committed by 15 to 29 year olds. This should tell us that we need youth training and education programs aimed at keeping them out of gangs and the illicit economy. If the only response is to invest in more police then I fear that we will not curtail the cycle of violence.