The writer has served as president of the Inter-American Development Bank since 2005. He retires this month
Ten years ago, I proposed that the 2010s could be the decade of Latin America and the Caribbean. I was not alone in this conviction. Thanks to earlier reforms, the region weathered the 2008 financial crisis well. Economies were growing far faster than those of the US or the eurozone. Fiscal deficits and public debt were lower than in the industrialised world. Millions of people were climbing out of poverty, helped by strong commodity prices and relative political stability.
But I also warned that to graduate from emerging market status, the region would have to tackle chronic problems in education, infrastructure, security, governance and inequality. No one expected that to be easy. Still, in retrospect, it is clear that the region squandered a rare opportunity.
While Latin America has expanded education access, the quality of learning has stagnated. Most of the region is on track to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for access to water, electricity, housing and transport. But the violent protests that erupted in late 2019 were often triggered by public anger over the dismal quality and high price of those services. The region has also invested a paltry 2.8 per…