Home Newsletters Inequality – the civil society view

Inequality – the civil society view

In our newsletter of September 7 (see here) we discussed institutional and academic views of inequality. Here we look at views from civil society. at a grass roots level.

We weren’t able to conduct a representative survey of the whole region, though we do have a voice from Jamaica, in the English-speaking Caribbean, and contributions from Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru and Brazil.  This is a discussion to which we shall return in future Newsletters and to which we hope our readers and partners will contribute: contactlab@lab.org.uk.

If there is an over-arching conclusion that emerges from these contributions, it could be phrased as follows:  ‘Trickle-down’ (el goteo) does not work.  Increase in overall national wealth is not a tide that raises all boats.  This is the experience of various countries that have benefited from the commodity boom, most notably Peru, but also Colombia.

Even in Brazil, which has one of the best-designed cash transfer programmes, it has been found that increases in wealth, education, earnings and social influence, do not automatically cross the generations.  INESC, from Brasília, says that the Lula government, which made a serious attempt to attack poverty, did not change the economic model. (Read more).

The Colombian government is adopting a more accurate poverty measure, the multi-dimensional poverty index, but, says economist Jorge Iván González, in Colombia some of the gaps between rich and poor have increased even while poverty has fallen.  The great gap is between the main urban centres and rural areas.  González argues that the 700% increase in food imports in Colombia between 2000 and 2010 shows the need for a proactive policy for Colombian agriculture.  Of course, this was one of the predicted consequences, if not overt intentions, of the signature of the Free Trade Agreement with the USA.  (Read more).

In Peru, President Ollanta Humala aroused many hopes among the people of Perú profundo because he does not come from the mestizo elites that have traditionally governed the country Now, however, he is coming under attack for his inability to change an economic model based on the export of minerals and hydrocarbons.  And where there is money, regional governments are often not able to spend it effectively (Read more).

Nicaragua, according to IEEPP, has the worst record for educating its population in Latin America and the Caribbean, and poverty here is also dropping very slowly.  Young people and women are the main victims of this situation.  Once again, technical programmes that do not address issues of ownership and power, are unable to have an impact on inequality (Read more).

Similar issues occur in Jamaica, according to Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice.  Land is a problem here too.  Interestingly, Jamaicans returning to their homeland after living in Britain can play an important role because of their greater sense of rights and entitlement. (Listen to the interview).

It may be a sign of hope that UNDP has discovered IPADS – not those shiny white tablets, but Indigenous and People of African Descent.  The fact that they have been raised to the status of an acronym means that the UN officially recognises that they are the social groups least likely to benefit from anti-poverty programmes.  Of course, recognition of vulnerability at a theoretical level is very different from the political and social action required to change things.  LAB exists to promote and disseminate examples of such social action so please do send us comments as well as information about campaigns and groups working to achieve social change – we can help highlight and promote their work: contactlab@lab.org.uk.

We are grateful to Christian Aid, who put us in touch with some of their partners quoted in their report The Scandal of Inequality in Latin America.

Other issues

A new map of the Amazon region has been published that shows the potential for protection, but also the threats, especially in Brazil (Read more).  In Brazil too, the Forest Code, which has just been passed by both houses of Congress, remains controversial (Read more). And we take another look at the peace negotiations between the Santos government and the FARC (Read more).