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International experts say Latin America needs to strengthen democratic institutions to meet economic challenges

NEW ORLEANS -- A panel of international experts today urged Latin America to strengthen democratic institutions in order to be better prepared to meet the challenges of economic growth and stability.

"You can not have a healthy economy when the political system is sick," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias, inaugurating a seminar on Politics and Governance in Latin America, one of a series of seminars held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Bank’s Board of Governors.

IDB Chief Economist Ricardo Hausmann noted the relationship of good governance and economic success. When measuring rule of law, control of corruption, government effectiveness, and quality of the regulatory environment, Latin America ranked behind Asia and far behind the most developed countries, he said.

Opinion polls show that Latin Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of their governments and think corruption is getting worse, Hausmann said.

He listed political challenges as fragmentation of political parties, volatility in voting patterns, low levels of popular participation, a large number of governments elected only by a minority of voters, lack of transparency in government, and lack of cohesion and coordination between the legislative and executive branches.

Carlos Ruckauf, governor of the Argentine province of Buenos Aires, warned that Latin America was still haunted by authoritarianism of past years despite recent gains in democratization. While public spending was indispensable in such areas as roads and education, "we have to spend in a better way, " he said.

Former Ecuadorian President Osvaldo Hurtado stressed the importance of strengthening political parties, while Dieter Nohlen, deputy director of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, said it was important that a political system -- be it presidential or parliamentary, centralized or decentralized − be accepted by the citizenry as legitimate. That means that each system must be evaluated in the historical context of a given country, he said.

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