The AECID (the Spanish cooperation agency) organized last week an interesting conference in Antigua (Guatemala) on the changes in Central America in the last 25 years and the challenges for the future. The conference highlighted many of the improvements but also challenges discussed in the Handbook of Central American Governance we recently published. Four are particularly important:
a. The growing costs of violence, which is now almost an epidemic in Central America. Carlos Dada, director of the great daily El Faro, gave an insightful talk on the failures of recent policies to prevent crime. He highlighted the costs of inequality and the lack of young people´s opportunities in the labour market. He also explained why "mano dura" proposals tend to be so popular: they at least respond to poor people´s anxieties when they lose a member of their families or are victims of crime.
b. The difficulties that the region has to transform its economic model. Several participants still hope that regional integration can help to promote economic growth and trigger a process of economic transformation. Will this really be the case? Can small and medium firms (the main source of employment in the region) build links with regional partners?
c. The weakness of the state. Talking about new social policies or industrial policy (and, fortunately, there was a lot of talk about both) is useless unless we are able to improve the quality and autonomy of the bureaucracy and make the state stronger and more responsive in all countries.
d. The central role of the elite. As I discussed with my friend and colleague Salvador Martí i Puig, we need to know much more about the elites: who they are now? How they operate? What are their everyday practices? And how the old and new elites interact with each other?