Global Policy Forum

MDGs Mask Injustice and Inequality in Latin America


By Kepa Artaraz

November 2005

Make Poverty History, the collective of international development organisations calling on the world's governments and leaders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, caught the public's imagination. 2005 is an important year that demands we all back the campaign to institute fair trade, drop the debt and provide more aid. However, Latin America is a long way from achieving many of these aims by 2015.

World leaders agreed the MDGs in 2000, committing their countries to greater efforts to help reduce poverty and achieve human and environmental development. The MDGs have focused minds and are catching the people's imaginations in association with the Make Poverty History campaign. This is good but should not detract from some of the problems associated with these targets.

MDGs criticised as top down

MDGs have been criticised on a number of counts, including the charity approach to development they endorse, their top-down implementation and the poor attention their target-oriented ethos pays to process issues. It is possible that the same processes of market liberalisation that stalled the fight against poverty reduction might be endorsed as the solution to achieving the MDGs: in Latin America the 1980s were called the 'lost decade' as unfettered neo-liberal economic policies coupled with poor governance made the continent just as poor, if not poorer, at the end of the decade than at the beginning of it.

MDGs can distract from the causes of injustice and inequality within nations by making the achievement of goals appear a purely technical matter - a point that is particularly relevant to Latin America. Although Latin America includes a number of middle income countries - making it relatively well-off by comparison to Africa - it also contains some of the most unequal countries in the world. The potential achievements of the MDGs could mask the level of inequalities and injustice within individual countries.

The MDGs are far from being reached in Latin America. The region is still one of the poorest in the world, with at least one third of its inhabitants classed as poor. Primary education enrolment figures are also discouraging, with educational achievement and completion rates low. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America only seven countries in Latin America are likely to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Worse, these figures mask dire levels of inequality that are far worse amongst ethnic groups than any other.

Indigenous people have made little economic or social progress since the 1990s

Latin American countries with large indigenous groups show extremely high levels of discrimination. According to a recent World Bank report that focuses on the region's five countries with the largest indigenous populations - Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru - indigenous peoples have made little or no progress since the 1990s in economic and social terms. They constitute a group of over 40 million people whose human development levels lag significantly behind those of the rest of society. Where indigenous populations constitute large percentages of the total, this issue is compounded.

Achieving the MDGs is important but they have to be achieved in a way that tackles injustice and inequality. In Latin America, this will mean reducing the inequalities that keep indigenous peoples from leading dignified lives

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Inequality of Wealth and Income Distribution
More Information on Global Injustice and Inequality
More Information on The Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up


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