April 20, 2024

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Argentina is commemorating 40 years of democracy. Chile, immersed in its second constitutional process, also celebrates democracy, remembering the military coup 50 years ago. In the coming years, El Salvador, Brazil, Uruguay and Guatemala will do so. A path traveled not long ago by Portugal, Spain and Ecuador, among others. During these 50 years in Ibero-America, the traditional dictatorship-democracy dichotomy has given way to a debate focused on the quality of the latter, on the functioning of the institutions, their performance and their ability to make the promise of economic and social development a reality. The political subject of the debate is no longer dictatorships, but democracy.

A democratic consolidation to which the universalization of education is not alien. The existence of dictatorships occurred in societies with high illiteracy rates, limited access to education at all levels and with educational systems that only ensured inequality, lack of quality and exclusion. A reality that today has changed, not as much as we would like, but that is manifestly better: illiteracy is now only a residual factor, basic education coverage has become universal and, among other aspects, we are the fastest growing region in the world of enrollment in higher education.

This scenario of democratic continuity, already normalized, is unprecedented; as are the challenges facing the region today. Ibero-America does not escape the great events and the profound transformations that are taking place worldwide. The covid 19 pandemic had a great impact on the region, from which it has not yet recovered; The economic contraction of GDP represented the largest annual drop in the 100 years of statistical records in the region, as reported by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, 2021), which translated into an alarming increase in the population in situation of poverty and extreme poverty; Between 2019 and 2021, almost 290 million people are in one or another of these situations. The social impact was differentiated between the different population groups: women and the most vulnerable boys, girls and young people were particularly hard hit, particularly in terms of access to education.

Likewise, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated an already complex scenario, due to the blow it has caused, especially indirectly, to the economies of the region: financial instability, the increase in inflationary pressure or the great dependence from some countries of certain Russian products, such as cereals or fertilizers, are some examples.

In the energy transition process, Latin America has an irrefutable geostrategic importance

All these events are framed within a context of transformation derived from the digital revolution under way that is advancing at a dizzying pace and from the urgent and urgent ecological/energy transition of our economies. This scenario poses enormous challenges for Ibero-America at a time when democracies are showing some fatigue as a result of the economic, institutional and, in some countries, political crisis. However, from the OEI we believe that there are elements that allow us to glimpse opportunities in the medium and long term.

In the energy transition process, Latin America has an irrefutable geostrategic importance given its great concentration of resources (only three countries -Argentina, Bolivia and Chile- concentrate 56% of lithium resources worldwide and it is estimated that the region has the capacity to produce around 12% of the renewable hydrogen that will be required by 2050). To which must be added the development of renewable energies, whose production has increased by 50% between 2008 and 2019.

For its part, digitization offers opportunities to ensure sustainable development in Latin America. Although it is true that there are large gaps to be corrected in this field, governments are prioritizing this issue and today a large part of the region has digital agendas in the implementation or updating phase, advancing in the latter case towards the design of sectoral agendas in strategic productive areas such as manufacturing and agriculture.

But these two transitions, the ecological and the digital, must be sustained and must be accompanied by the just transition, which is not a third transition, but rather the epicenter of sustainable development. Without the latter, the chances of opportunities becoming threats, especially in regions with great social challenges, grow exponentially.

The just transition refers to the maximization of the benefits and the minimization of the negative impacts (economic and social) of the process of change in which we are inserted. It is not just about compensatory policies; on the contrary, it has a strong propositional component and integration of sectors and groups that are considered agents of the first order. Strengthening the social component of change is essential to reinvigorate our democracies.

We defend that education, more and better for everyone, is the engine that will make these three transitions possible and that will facilitate integration processes that provide strength to the region in the face of a global economy and development, a potential for change and cohesion that already demonstrated with the democratic transitions that we have experienced in recent decades.

We look towards the next European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit (EU CELAC) that will take place in mid-July not as a point of arrival, but a starting point, infected by the good spirit of both regions to move towards a new framework of relations, in which the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, including social, economic and cultural rights, non-discrimination and the gender equality agenda, are protagonists.

From the OEI we are helping to define a new common agenda between Ibero-America and the European Union, in which education, science and culture are engines of inclusive change and which, as happened with the consolidation of democracies, contribute to make possible the new transitions: green, fair and digital and that favor integration processes that strengthen the region in the face of a global economy.

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