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Speaker: The present and future of Latin America 

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Emerging region is more than you think, Brookings scholar says

Latin America is a region with diverse cultures and internal differences in both its economy and ideologies, but some scholars are advocating a paradigm shift in the way we view its influence on the rest of the world.

A lecture and forum on Tuesday featuring Mauricio Cardenas, a senior fellow and director of the Latin American initiative at the Brookings Institution, sought to dispel common stereotypes about Latin American countries by presenting research about contemporary attitudes and events in the region.

Cardenas said that the view of Latin America as a benchmark for “populism and economic mismanagement” was outdated and that we should begin to view the area from an entirely new perspective.

He expanded on the emergence of Latin America while attempting to disprove common misconceptions about it, restating some of the major problems that remain the reality in many Latin American nations.

“The purpose of the research and the presentation is to make sure that the U.S. and particularly U.S. policymakers understand better the changes and the transformations that have occurred in Latin America,” Cardenas said.

He said he believed that researching and bringing knowledge about contemporary Latin America and its impact on the world, especially the U.S., is important for citizens and students as well as lawmakers.

“It is important for the whole UNLV community, for Nevada, and for everyone in the U.S. to realize and be aware of the changes occurring in Latin America,” said Bill Brown, director of planning and communications for Brookings Mountain West at UNLV.

The scholars expanded on their assertion that Latin America has evolved and that, through the deconstruction of some common misconceptions about Latin America, it becomes possible to break down preconceptions that people have about the region and its people.

“There is a tendency for us … to think of [Latin America] as one large region and not talk about the individual differences within the different countries,” Brown said.

Individual differences, Cardenas said, are the most important factors in any analysis of the region.

Latin America, as he described it, is not one unified region but a collection of countries in which national differences play an important role for each individual nation.

Cardenas also stressed the importance of the dangers of generalizing Latin America as an area with the same demographics and economy, and he argued that Latin America can be better understood in a sub-regional context.

“One particular situation is the case of the South American countries,” Cardenas said. “These are going through a very good economic phase mainly because they are … very rich in natural resources, [unlike] the countries of Central America.”

Cardenas explained that Central American nations differ from other Latin American nations in that they do not have an abundance of natural resources, but depend more on trade, tourism and exports from the U.S.

He also explained how Latin America used to be a region where high inflation was very common, especially when it came to micro-economic mismanagement.

This is no longer the case, Cardenas said, as Latin America has done very well in the past years and recovered its economy quickly and effectively.

One of the main factors that contributes to the growth of Latin America, he said, is that in terms of GDP, Latin America is not far from China.

This becomes even more impressive when the fact that Latin America’s population is less than half of China’s population is taken into account.

Cardenas said that this means, on average, Latin America’s per capita income is more than twice that of China’s.

Another major issue discussed by Cardenas was the meaning of Latin America’s economic growth in the context of its relations with the U.S.

Cardenas pointed out the dependence the U.S. has on imports from Latin America. One-third of all oil exports to the US come from the region.

This led Cardenas to the conclusion that Latin America is more economically linked to the United States than the Middle East.

Further solidifying this economic tie is the fact that, out of the many countries that receive exports from the U.S., three such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia are major Latin American economies.

While Cardenas acknowledged that many Latin American countries are close to being designated “developed,” he emphasized the importance of not taking the region’s economic growth as a sign of complacency due to many negative factors that still plague the region.

Cardenas said that the reason Latin America is still underdeveloped has much to do with the way some governments are run. For instance, in the case of Venezuela, income gaps as well as the level of public education compared to private education are not meeting an acceptable standard.

Cardenas also said that this particular trend tends to be pervasive among other countries in the region as well.

After the lecture concluded, Cardenas re-emphasized the importance of not making generalizations when it comes to Latin America due to the fact that it is a growing region that still needs much improvement.

In addition, he talked about the importance of being optimistic with Latin America’s current situation and development, but he also encouraged people to be realistic about its potential.

“I think a lot of people learned new information that will have them thinking about Latin America and what the United States policy should be towards Latin America,” Brown said. “This is why we had the lecture … to make sure that any policy that is made is made with the best information possible.”

Contact Maria Ágreda at [email protected]

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