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22 / 09 / 2004
Andrés Allamand: “If a democracy cannot resolve the problem of poverty it is incomplete”

The first session of the Dialogue “Contributing to the World Agenda” analyzed the relationship between democracy and world poverty.

The consultant of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) from Chile, Andrés Allamand, explained in his speech that, "if a democracy is not capable of solving the problem of poverty it means it is an incomplete democracy, flawed". Allamand made the criticism that "the authoritarian deceit that results in some poorer countries having undergone periods of development because they have lived through dictatorships". Also he added that "traditionally it is said that dictatorships are necessary to achieve development".

Andrés Allamand pointed out that nowadays democracy has been extended into the poorer countries because it "is more and more tolerant of poverty". "What is clear is that dictatorships do not produce an improvement in the reduction of poverty, nor vice versa", he added.

For the consultant of the IADB Chile the solution is "in putting order into economic policies, recognizing the extension of democracy and the right to property and also putting politics in order". In this respect, Allamand put the example of Chile where he said "from 1990 to the present time poverty has been reduced from 40% to 20%". "This extraordinary fact of this matter is that Chilean politics work far better", he added.

Allamand recalled that "Chile has a high quality system for measuring poverty". "The fight against poverty has been depoliticized". For the Chilean consultant "democracy has better options to end poverty because it has the force of the appropriate economic policy". Finally he indicated he is convinced that "the electoral system must include all voices".

The World Bank special adviser on poverty reduction and economic management networks, Deepa Narayan, explained that in the matter of poverty elections should not be taken into consideration and that "the application of decisions means allowing competition". Narayan said that, "miracles and disasters take place with more frequency in dictatorships than in democracies". Narayan pointed out that "authoritarianism does not bring economic growth".

For Narayan the duration of a democracy is important because "the more stable the democracy the more effective is the policy to eradicate poverty".

The representative of the World Bank expressed the opinion that "elections have always been the symbol of democracy but the fact there are elections does not mean that the democracy works correctly". For Narayan democracy implies civil liberties and government responsibility before the citizens. In this sense, Narayan put the example of India where "there is political freedom but no freedom of opportunities, and many people continue being vulnerable". In this respect, Narayan thinks that "information is the key, and civil society has the crucial role of designing policies and improving the situation".

The director of the Oslo Center of Democratic Governance and representative of the United Nations Development Program, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, put the example of countries like Angola and Gabon that "in spite of their petroleum reserves have authoritarian regimes". In this sense, Nzongola-Ntalaja said that in these cases "the governments do not worry about their population and squander the wealth of the country".

Nzongola-Ntalaja supported the access to information for citizens as well as the access to public services. The representative of the UNDP spoke about the external debt, which he said "is the cause of irresponsible politicians and ambitious projects". He explained that "the international community has the opportunity to solve the problems of corruption".

The head of the State, Governance and Civil Society division of the IADB, Edmundo Jarquín, explained that, "the history of Latin America is not that of a democracy with poverty but that of a century of authoritarianism with economic growth which, however, has not solved the problem of poverty". For Jarquín "Latin America experiences low growth and a bad rate of distribution”.

For Jarquín the problem has been "that democracies have inherited external debt, have faced external shocks and are undergoing an ideological shock associated with the Washington Consensus".

According to Jarquín "there cannot be democracy in dysfunctional states, but investment capital and infrastructures are what is needed". The member of the IABD explained that "the three countries with the greatest democratic tradition in Latin America are Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which at the same time are those that exceed the average per capita income of the continent, according to the poverty index of the UNDP". Jarquín pointed out "that these countries will achieve the millennium objective of the end to poverty by the year 2015 but the rest of Latin America will not". Finally, he put the example of the Argentinian crisis, which he said "was a political and not an economic error", and he drew a parallel between the situation of some African and Latin American countries.