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November 20, 2023

2023 GU LATAM Conference

Ricardo Ernst and Nur Cristiani

On November 20, 2023, Georgetown University presented the relaunch of its Georgetown University Latin American Conference GU LATAM, which aims to elevate an action-oriented debate on the major issues related to the Latin American and the Caribbean region.

This annual conference brings together all the different actors at Georgetown University working on regional issues to promote cross-campus collaboration, research, and practice about U.S. foreign policy related to LATAM, the rule of law in the Americas, and business opportunities in the region. The event organizers included school units such as Georgetown Americas Institute (GAI), the Latin America Leadership Program at the McDonough School of Business (LALP), the Center for Latin American Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service (CLAS), and the Center for the Advancement of the Rule of Law in the Americas at the Law School (CAROLA). They joined Georgetown student associations seeking to specialize in this arena, such as LAPA (McCourt School of Public Policy), LABA (McDonough School of Business), and LAFAA (Walsh School of Foreign Service).


9:30am - Opening Remarks

  • ​Luis Almagro -  Secretary General, Organization of American States (OAS)

9:45am - Business Leaders' Perspectives: Challenges and Solutions in Latin America

  • ​Nur Cristiani - Head of Latin America Investment Strategy, J.P. Morgan's Private Bank
  • Moderator: Ricardo Ernst - Executive Director, Latin America Leadership Program

11:00am - Navigating Climate Change: Sustainable Strategies and Policies

  • ​Hilen Meirovich - Head of Climate Change, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Invest
  • Ding Ding - Division Chief and Mission Chief for Costa Rica, Central America Division, Western Hemisphere Department - International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  • Moderator: Alejandro Werner, Founding Director of the Georgetown Americas Institute

12:45pm - U.S. leadership in the region. opportunities and Challenges

  • ​Dr. Catalina Crespo Sancho - Ambassador, Costa Rica
  • Adam Isacson - Director of Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America
  • Moderator: Diana Kapiszewski, Director of Center for Latin American Studies

2:00pm - Navigating Economic Slowdown: Leveraging Opportunities for Development

  • ​Carlos Felipe Jaramillo - Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, World Bank Group (WBG)
  • Moderator: Denisse Yanovich, Managing Director of the Georgetown
    Americas Institute

Georgetown University Latin American Conference 2023: A Conversation On The Major Issues Related To The Region

By: Juan Pablo Lopez

The Georgetown University Latin American Conference (GU LATAM) relaunched its annual summit on Monday. It welcomed the university community for a day of panels and conversations with external experts to elevate an action-oriented debate on the significant issues related to the Latin American and Caribbean region.

This annual conference brings together all the different actors at Georgetown University working in Latin America to foster cross-campus collaboration, research, and practice about U.S. foreign policy related to LATAM, the rule of law in the Americas, and business opportunities in the region.

Luis Almagro, Secretary General for the OAS, opened the summit by focusing on the principles of freedom, human rights, and democracy and the challenges the region faces after the COVID-19 pandemic. Almagro said it is necessary to analyze, debate, and reflect on the current political and democratic situation in the region to renew approaches to deal with the new realities of the region.

“We are permanently changing. And during all these times, we have to keep our work, keep our adherence to the principles, keep working defending democracy and human rights, and have a different ideological understanding of what they represent,” said Almagro.

The challenges to democracy are growing exponentially everywhere in the post-pandemic era, with problems such as the war in Europe and the conflict in the Middle East, which are having severe consequences in the world and the Latin America and Caribbean region.

“We see everywhere new challenges that were not easy to foresee before the pandemic,” said Almagro. “We have seen corruption, power co-opted, the bad use of the Russian currency, the bad use of the majorities and difficult transitions,”

Almagro said the region's citizens have to deal with new realities and ever-changinghemispheres, live in debate, and rise in a choice to defend the rights of the people to live in a true democracy. For Almagro, one of the biggest challenges in the region is the lack of acting according to the principles of freedom, human rights, and democracy.

“We know in politics what is good and what is bad. We have to act according to these principles, according to the goodness, the good for our people and our communities,” said Almagro.

Almagro said that through the region, he continues to see political, social, and economic crises tight with inequality and corruption, which continue to debilitate the citizens. The social and economic crisis and corruption have become alarming signs of democratic erosions as institutions are being weakened. He added that the new problems of contemporary democracy include polarization, fanaticism, violence, organized crime, poverty, inequality, and the judicialization of politics by testing the resilience of democratic systems in the region and the world.

“Sometimes, we have even failed to condemn the systematic repression of dictatorship in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. We cannot miss that. That is something huge, and we can not miss that; we still miss it many times,” said Almagro.

One of the issues Almagro mentioned during his opening speech is the political polarization and the levels of denization that the region is seeing today, completely undermining institutions that sustain the representation of democracy and underscore the challenges to fundamental factors such as the respect of human rights, the fundamental rights and freedom, celebration of fair elections, political pluralism, and independence of public powers.

“This is like the worst moment since the 70s. We see a lack of understanding, a lack of common ground, a lack of purpose, a lack of everything between the right and the left,” said Almagro.

Regarding territorial participation and political equality between men and women, Almagro said the region saw the highest recorded territorial participation compared to the rest of the world. He added the region has made the most progress in gender policies in recent decades. However, He said, there is a disconnection with the youth, and there needs to be more policies that include young people in decision-making roles.

“The role of young people is crucial to amend the fact of democracy, defending human rights and promoting freedom,” said Almargro. “I believe it is important to promote a career, intergenerational dialogue in democracy at local, national, and regional levels to avoid creating barriers between the different age groups of children, young people, mothers and elderly,”

Almagro said the region must promote young leadership based on equality and inclusion in all sectors with affirmative action policies that pave the way for the youth to exercise their rights in a democracy.

“Political parties that do not renew their leadership are doomed to become weaker and weaker every day,” said Almagro.

Business Leaders’ Perspectives: Challenges and Solutions in Latin America

The Latin America and Caribbean region is going through a continuation of challenges over time that have exposed the region to many situations that make finding solutions problematic. Regardless of the challenges, the region remains resilient in finding solutions. A vital part of that process has been the support of the private sector, which has played an essential role in the situation after the world has seen significant challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and lastly, the Israel and Hamas war.

Nur Cristiani, Head of Latin America Investment Strategy for J.P Morgan’s Private Bank, spoke about the private sector investment in the region and how the challenges it faced have played a role in investing in Latin America.

To Cristiani, the challenges of the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, and the war in the Middle East have sparked further interest in the LATAM region, not only for the commercial partnership the U.S has with some countries in the region but also the interest of Asia in Latin America.

“Latin America is poised to become one of the main investment destinations,” said Cristiani. “To take advantage precisely from the polarization that we are seeing globally, and not just from our geographical proximity to the U.S but from our commercial proximity as well to our Asia peers,”

The institutions in Latin America are not as strong as in other countries, according to Ricardo Ernst, Executive Director of the Latin America Leadership Program and moderator of the panel; for him, the current political and economic burden of Latin America could be an element of concern for investors, who might not want to invest in a region with political instability, where the solidity of the institutions is weak.

“Investors are going to demand a higher rate of return from the investments they are making in the country,” said Cristiani. “I am sure that when investors set up in the Middle East, they are already considering the political and security concerns. But they are investing nonetheless,”

Regarding the investable markets in Latin America, the list is limited to five countries in order of importance: Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. Within the five countries, the dynamics are highly different. Mexico is The one country receiving the most investment, given that it is closely linked to the dynamics in the U.S. On the other hand, the other four countries are most closely related to what is happening in China, according to Cristiani.

“I think that South America, as you see it from the investments that have been made not only in the last ten years but in the last 20, 30, 40 years, The majority of the commercial ties and investments ties are coming precisely from the East-West relationships, said Cristiani.”

Navigating Climate Change: Sustainable Strategies and Policies

Countries in the Caribbean and Central America are often labeled as the most vulnerable countries to climate change, not only because of their exposure to climate-related disasters but also because of their adaptive capacities, meaning that the social resources available to enhance their central adaptation capacity are very limited in this region.

Ding Ding, Division Chief of the Central America Division, Western Hemisphere Department, said that many countries in the Caribbean, given the challenges they face, what they are doing in terms of climate adaptation is not sustainable in the sense that they under-invest in extensive resilience to climate change and rely too heavily on the post-disaster recovery, which from a public finance perspective, is very costly.

“We have been working with authorities in some countries to help them develop a more comprehensive and medium-term, longer-term strategy to deal with natural disasters,” said Ding.

The strategy consists of three essential aspects. The first is structural resilience, which focuses on how the government makes its buildings, infrastructure, roads, and electricity—but also mentions a soft infrastructure that covers a proper early warning system, building codes, and the zoning policy.

The second important aspect they look at is the financial resilience. They want to know what type of predetermined financial arrangements they have in place to adequate funds the day after the disaster hits the country so the government can mobilize these resources without harming the sustainability of their public finance.

Ding said the third element is post-disaster or social resilience, mainly in the type of community planning policies they have in place so that the people know what organization is in charge of a specific task. Ding said these policies are essential for small countries in the Caribbean and Central America region.

“We know that spending money on climate resilient infrastructure right now is more costly,” said Ding. “But it can bring you longer-term growth benefits,”

Hilen Meirovich, Head of Climate Change for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Invest, has been working on climate change and has been the point of conversation with different governments. She said that since 2015, the private sector has been getting more involved in taking action, but the COVID-19 pandemic took a tool at the work they had been doing.

“When COVID hit, basically you saw a lot of companies saying, can we continue working onthis issue or should we recover from the pandemic and then focus on climate agenda,” said Meirovich.

Meirovich believes there is a global push for climate change, and one of the drivers for the private sector action has to do with institutional investors. She said a lot of institutional investors have their own set of targets of trying to invest in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing. She said that there is this an opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean to innovate and attract investors.

“A lot of these big funds have resources allocated for ESG investment,” said Meirovich. “the black rocks of this world have to get quotas on how much they’re investing in clean energy or natural-based solutions. Having those targets and institutional investors means that there are a lot of supply projects trying to attract those institutional investors,”

U.S Leadership in the region: Opportunities and challenges

During the third panel, Dr. Catalina Crespo Sancho, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States, pointed out the importance of all countries to “walk the talk.” Many countries in Latin America and the world are facing many challenges that include security, immigration, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and more. However, she said Costa Rica walks the talk by implementing policies that work and help tackle those issues while remaining diplomatic.

“When you look at a country and the public policies that they have, make sure that those public policies are not just there to sound nice but actually to work,” said Crespo Sancho.

One issue in the region according to Crespo Sancho is the pinpointing of fault in the region for the current challenges. She said she is more concern about human trafficking and the business and money behind it. Human trafficking has increase in the past years and in part because of the huge wave of migration in the Central America region.

“Drugs and human trafficking are businesses and they are making a lot of money,” said Crespo Sancho. “Unless we change the discourse of these issues, it’s going to be harder to follow the money,”

Dr. Crespo Sancho expanded on the need for a holistic approach to address Latin America's challenges. She emphasized that collaboration among nations is crucial, and a united effort is required to combat transnational issues effectively. The Ambassador highlighted the significance of regional partnerships and the exchange of best practices to create a collective front against shared challenges. In her view, fostering cooperation is essential to achieving sustainable solutions and promoting regional stability.

Furthermore, Crespo Sancho underscored the importance of international support in addressing the root causes of migration and human trafficking. She argued that a comprehensive strategy should go beyond short-term measures and delve into socio-economic factors, advocating for initiatives that empower communities and create opportunities for their residents. By addressing the underlying causes, she believes nations can contribute to the long-term alleviation of challenges like migration and human trafficking.

Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America, joined the panel to discuss U.S. leadership in the Americas and the focus on security. For Isacson, the biggest concern in government about security in the defense sector is rival powers, given the current state of relationships among countries.

Isacson argued that understanding the motivations and strategies of rival powers is paramount in developing effective defense policies. In a rapidly changing global landscape, where alliances and geopolitical interests can swiftly shift, staying vigilant is crucial. He advocated for a nuanced and adaptive approach, emphasizing the importance of intelligence and diplomacy in preventing potential security threats and conflicts.

Moreover, Isacson highlighted the interconnectedness of security issues with broader socio-economic challenges. He stressed the need for a comprehensive strategy that addresses immediate security concerns and considers the underlying factors contributing to regional instability. By recognizing the complex interplay between security, economics, and diplomacy, Isacson suggested that the U.S. could play a more constructive role in fostering stability and cooperation throughout the Americas.

The panel discussion painted a multifaceted picture of Latin America's challenges, emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts, nuanced discourse, and strategic security policies in navigating the region's complexities. The insights shared by the panelists shed light on the intricate web of issues that demand a comprehensive and cooperative approach to achieve lasting solutions.

Navigating Economic Slowdow: Leveraging Opportunities for Development

During the fourth and final panel of the GU LATAM conference, the conversation centered around the intersection of the structural problems of the region and what is next for the continent. Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank Group (WBG), spoke about the development the region has had in the past decades and how today, some of the challenges, such as access to education, health, electricity, and more, are still there but in a much minor percentage.