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Latin America at a crossroads

Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga says fighting corruption, strengthening institutions, reducing poverty and promoting integration should be at the top of Latin America's agenda in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

At a talk at the Inter-American Development Bank's Forum on the Americas series, Quiroga compared the region to a mountain climber who has reached the base of the summit and must overcome the challenge of the final slope.
"We are at a crossroads on this mountain of progress where we have to look at the tools and equipment and at new ways of doing things," he said.

The challenges
Quiroga cautioned that every country in Latin America was different and should be interpreted as such. Long-range policies are necessary, he said, because "you have to have institutions in place that do not change with governments." In Bolivia, these gradual changes include decentralizing the government system, reforming the judiciary by converting from a written to an oral system of law, and strengthening public accounting and anticorruption mechanisms, he noted.

He described poverty reduction as a long-range task related to complex issues of growth, trade, development, and stability, as well as to immediate relief.
Bolivia has being successfully reducing poverty, Quiroga said. Two decades ago, 86 % of the population was poor, a decade ago the percentage was 70%, and currently the number is 57%. He emphasized that the country "still has many mountains to climb."

While the former president was critical of previous world trade agreements, he praised the ongoing negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas as "a bright light at the end of a tunnel." He also urged the Latin American countries to "defend and strengthen" the regional integration process.

Regarding agricultural tariffs in industrial countries that discriminate against Latin America's products, Quiroga noted that while millions of Latin Americans lived below the poverty line of $2 a day, "it costs $2 a day to feed a cow in Europe, and $7 in Japan." He warned that if the wealthier nations were not more generous with international aid now - particularly in the case of Argentina - they would be faced with a much more expensive task of restoring world financial stability in the future.

The former president stressed the importance of an ongoing commitment to democracy by the Organization of American States. As a sign of progress toward democracy in the region, he pointed to the fact that constitutional mechanisms were used to replace six of the 10 Latin American presidents elected in recent years who failed to finish their terms.

Quiroga also urged the United States to rapidly fill the vacant position of assistant secretary of state for Latin America as a sign of its commitment to the region. He said the region interprets as a sign of neglect the fact that many years have passed since a diplomat confirmed by the U.S. Senate has held that position.

Now a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Quiroga was elected vice president of Bolivia in 1997. He assumed the presidency for one year following the death of President Hugo Banzer in May of 2001.

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