Leaders from Latin America, Portugal, Spain and Andorra are meeting this week for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus to push for greater access to vaccines and seek flexible financing to recover from the pandemic.
The recent increase in infections in most of the 22 participating countries has displaced the 27th edition of the Ibero-American Summit, which was already postponed last year, to a format that mixes the virtual with the meeting of a handful of leaders in person in Andorra, the tiny nation in the Pyrenean mountain range that separates France and Spain.
The heads of state and government of 17 nations will connect by videoconference this Wednesday, while only four countries, in addition to the host himself, have sent representatives to the Pyrenean spa that is hosting the meeting. They will be, due to geographical proximity, Spain and Portugal and, as the last and next venues of the summit, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Their leaders are scheduled to participate on Tuesday in a business meeting prior to the start of the summit.
The presidents of Venezuela and Cuba, Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, will debut in the forum through the screen. Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, a critic of multilateralism, has refused to participate. The Venezuelan opponent Juan Guaidó has not been invited despite being recognized by fifty countries as the president in charge of Venezuela.
But attendance and absences aside, the appointment is expected to culminate with a new call for universal and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which has lamented how rich countries have acquired most doses.
With only 7% of the doses distributed globally and less than 9% of the population with at least one puncture, Latin America needs to accelerate immunization, since it continues to suffer the pandemic disproportionately: with 8% of the population worldwide, Latin America accumulates almost 30% of confirmed deaths worldwide.
To date, there are few details about what the summit will offer regarding vaccines. The Spanish authorities have advanced that there will be a show of “solidarity” with the region that will be announced by its president, Pedro Sánchez. Bolivia and other countries, for their part, have aligned themselves with more than 170 former presidents and Nobel laureates who last week asked the President of the United States, Joe Biden, to support the temporary suspension of patents for vaccines and drugs against COVID-19 .
This step could allow the manufacture of generic doses in countries with the infrastructure to do so, such as Argentina or Brazil, in a similar way to what has already been done with drugs to treat AIDS. But Big Pharma is against it and, to date, the governments of the United States and the European Union have shown no signs of wanting to agree to the request.
The summit also seeks to expedite the disbursement of committed funds and expand international financing beyond the conditional loans that in the past have been a yoke for many countries. In this way, leaders are expected to support the recent announcement of the most industrialized countries, or G20, to distribute 650,000 million dollars through the International Monetary Fund to combat the pandemic in countries with fewer resources.
The mechanism, known as Special Drawing Rights, would make more than 70 billion dollars available to Latin America, injecting liquidity into the system and reinforcing the countries’ reserves. It is also envisaged that countries that renounce the rights may transfer them to third nations.
The funds are urgent. Latin America has seen a collapse of the gross domestic product close to 8%, something that has resulted in a serious decline in socioeconomic indicators. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that poverty last year reached levels not seen in a dozen years. In the case of people who cannot satisfy their daily basic needs, or extreme poverty, the region is at the same level as two decades ago. According to ECLAC, inequality and lack of employment have prevailed especially with women.
“The pandemic caught us at a difficult time,” said Germán Ríos, an economics expert from the region attached to the Instituto de Empresa, a Madrid-based business school. “The volatile growth and decline is like looking at an EKG of someone who is about to have a heart attack.”
For the expert, the good news is that the economic outlook points to a rapid rebound in the region thanks to the combination of faster growth in China (the Asian country announced that in the first quarter of 2021 it had grown by 18.3% compared to the same period in 2020) and the rapid vaccination process in the United States, the region’s main trading partner. The dangers, says the expert, are the increase in fiscal deficits and indebtedness.
Rebeca Grynspan, the Ibero-American general secretary in charge of the body that promotes the summits, SEGIB, pointed out last week that 2021 should be the year of a unitary solution. “We are obliged to learn to resurface stronger, more responsible, more supportive and more respectful of ourselves, our fellow citizens and our living environment,” said Grynspan, who was vice president of Costa Rica, in a meeting with the foreign ministers of the group. .
The summit should also end with the creation of an epidemiological observatory that allows the exchange of information throughout the region, as well as a space for the exchange of good practices in the fight against gender violence. A declaration on climate change, the first joint initiative of the 22 countries, is also expected.
Spain will also promote on the margins of the summit what it has defined as “an effort to mobilize talents”. Although few details have been offered, it is an agreement to which Portugal, Brazil, Nicaragua and Colombia have joined to recognize degrees of students, researchers and entrepreneurs, who could move between countries with greater ease, even to establish themselves in a temporary.