The Challenges of Latin America and the Caribbean

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Latin America and the Caribbean: Part 1

In this two part series, we cover the Latin American and Caribbean regions of the world. Part 1 reviews the challenge areas that exist, Part 2 will discuss the areas of positive development and opportunity.

Latin America and the Caribbean have been making great strides in the past decades, worthy of mention. Measured by the standards of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this growth is unprecedented and commendable. Such growth cuts across an avid reduction in poverty, better distribution of primary education down to increasing political stability. However, while all these developments have been remarkable, there remains some cracks yet to be filled. This unfortunately smears the feats conquered so far.

First remains poverty

While Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded gigantic achievements in poverty reduction, the stage is not entirely cleared, as their yet remains a lot to be done in fully eradicating poverty to modern acceptable standards. Between 2002 and 2013, over 70 million climbed out of poverty with another 94 million leaping up into the middle class economic category.

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That said, there remains much to be done to sustain this growth. The Human Development Report  coming from the United Nations Development Programme shows that of this number that has been propelled from the class of poverty upwards. That said, according to this report, 2 in every 5 Latin Americans are vulnerable economically, which equals about 220 million people. This amount of people are not necessarily poor, but they have not sufficiently and sustainably climbed into the middle class category. In the midst of this 220 million people, about 30 million among them are facing the threat of sliding back into poverty.

Moving over from those close to degradation to poverty, there are still those wallowing in abject poverty in Latin America. Going by reports coming from ECLAC, about 13% of the total population in Latin America, or 70 million people, are living under seriously poor conditions and economic hardship. Another cluster of the poor struggled with unimpressive income, which failed blatantly to cater for their basic needs. This latter cluster amounted to about 180 million people.

Latin America and the Caribbean struggle intensely with inequality

Inequality is a major problem in this region. Latin America and the Caribbean accommodates about 15 of the most unequal countries in the world. The social system and public care system are riddled with discrimination and disparity.

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The pay gap between men and women is still skewed. According to analysis from UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the pay vacuum between women and their male peers is about 26% in favor of the male.

Women most especially are at the receiving violence. About 27.3% of women in this region face physical violence on a daily basis. This amounts to about one in every four women. Going further, about 12 women lose their lives to violence every day in this region.

Insecurity, violence, robbery and the war on drugs

Security of human lives and properties is still a worrisome challenge in Latin America. Compared to the global rate, reports revealed that the average homicide rate in Latin America is more than thrice. In a period of time when global homicide rates were reducing, they are increasing in Latin America. Within the period of 2000-2010, murders in Latin America increased above 100,000 annually. This means that over ten-year space, over a million murders were been recorded.

Within the last 25 years, robbery has spiked exponentially. One in every three Latin Americans has faced violent crime. The public security apparatus struggles to curtail juvenile crime and drug wars. This is all in the face of improving economic conditions in the region, making it quite a contradictory challenge.

In Latin America, the US-led drug war has led to catastrophic consequences. Drug production and trafficking mostly take place in Latin America with Colombia, Peru and Bolivia being the world’s main cocaine producers, with Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America being the main conduit for smuggling drugs into the United States and Europe.

Because of the drug trade, and the US war against it, there has been a significant increase in violence on all of Latin America, especially in the drug production and trafficking areas. This has led to an increase in not only violence, but human rights violations, corruption, the erosion of the rule of law and the increase in brutally violent and merciless drug cartels.

One of the hardest hit countries of late as been the Central American country of Honduras, which now has the distinction of having some of the world’s most dangerous cities, as well as having the highest homicide rate – 82.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants – in the world. The situation is so dire that human rights defenders and journalists that expose the violence and the government corruption tied to the drug trade are now targeted, harassed and murdered in record numbers.

Because of the destabilizing effects of the drug war, Latin American policymakers are increasingly looking at alternative means of combating the problem, including legalization or decriminalization. An example of this is Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize marijuana in December 2013.

Aside from the above challenges that Latin America and the Caribbean face, there is much room to have a positive outlook as well. In next week’s article, we will talk about the areas in which Latin America and the Caribbean can feel a great feeling of optimism.

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