First virtual conference of Latin American think tanks on COVID-19

5 May 2020

[This article was originally published on Southern Voice’s blog on April 29, 2020]

In a joint initiative On Think Tanks and Southern Voice organised the first virtual conference on COVID-19 in Latin America with members of the Southern Voice network in the region.

The conference was split into three parallel sessions. The topics were:

  • Economy: How can countries finance the costs of the crisis and reactivate the economy? 
  • Social: How to offer an integral response to the most vulnerable in society?
  • Political: How can political institutions respond to the crisis?

Outcomes of discussions

Economic session

The discussion focused on which policies could support the financing of the crisis and revive the economy. Solutions at the national level, as well as options for regional cooperation,  were considered.

A solid financial system, with sufficient liquidity, is key to revitalising the region’s economy. It is more important than ever that the financial systems of each country remain flexible and adapt to the heterogeneous needs of households and production systems. The financial sector in the region is much stronger than in past crises.

Countries in the region face the challenge to invest in key social and economic sectors, with limiting financial space. Alternatives are also highly dependent on the political economy of each country, and the governments’ capacity to reach a national consensus.

The moderator for this session was Ana Patricia Muñoz, Grupo FARO – Ecuador. Panelists were Verónica Serafini,  CADEP – Paraguay; Miguel Jaramillo, GRADE – Peru and Pedro Argumedo, FUSADES – El Salvador.

You can read an extended article on this session here.

Social session

The crisis is disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups, such as informal workers, migrant populations, women and children victims of violence, indigenous and rural populations. Countries in the region have started to devise responses to these problems through different policy instruments.

Panellists talked about the measures taken by governments in their countries. Some are responding with monetary transfers, food packages and other types of aid. Across countries, registration systems for beneficiaries are a limitation. They tend to focus on identifying the poorest household, and not all those just above, who remain vulnerable to shocks such as a pandemic.

Overall, while some governments can quickly adapt their systems to the crisis, others are completely failing to reach the ones most in need.

All speakers agreed that it was difficult to maintain the quarantine in countries with such big groups of the population within the informal economy and/or at high risk of falling into poverty. The pandemic has unmasked in all countries a wide gap in access to basic services, especially public health and water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. The panel concluded that it was important to provide solutions that would also set the basis for wider reforms needed to tackle the region’s inequalities.

This session was moderated by  Norma Correa,  PUCP and OTT – Perú and Lorena Alcazar, GRADE – Perú. Panelists were: Javier Herrera, Perú, IRD y PUCP – Peru; Gala Diaz Langou, CIPPEC – Argentina and Helga Cuellar-Marchelli, FUSADES – El Salvador.

Political session

Moments of crisis like the current one require a clear, legitimate political response with the support of the majority. Congress is the natural setting for this. However, the pandemic has affected the functioning of democratic institutions and these require new decision-making and action mechanisms. Can our institutions adapt to this new reality? How will Congress fulfil its role while respecting preventive social isolation?

Panellists reviewed how Congress in each of their countries have adapted to the crisis, e.g. installing or reinforcing virtual sessions and the implications this causes for legislation. Especially in a crisis context, Congress must work and include voices of opposition and minorities. This is not happening in many countries. Within the region, there is a latent risk of a concentration of power in the executive branch.

This session was moderated by Carolina Tchintian, CIPPEC-Argentina and had presentations by María Jaraquemada, Espacio Público – Chile, Andrés Carrizosa- Paraguay, Mónica Pachón Buitrago, Universidad de los Andes – Colombia and Lorena Vázquez Correa, Instituto Belisario Domínguez, Senado de la República – México.

This event was a first and successful attempt to bring together the unique expertise of our member think tank in the region. We hope to be able to offer more of these in the coming months for other regions of the network as well.

Read more about On Think Tanks’ COVID-19 initiative.

For more and ongoing information on the latest research on the pandemic from the Global South perspective, make sure to visit Southern Voice’s COVID-19 page.