to social equality
• Interview with Alicia
Bárcena, ECLAC executive secretary
Laura Bécquer Paseiro
THE Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was established by
the UN Economic and Social Council in 1948 to
contribute to regional economic development,
coordinate action to promote it and to reinforce
economic relations among countries. Subsequently,
its work extended to the Caribbean nations and the
incorporation of a social development dimension.
Headquartered in Santiago de Chile, it has two sub-regional
bases: one for Central America in Mexico, and
another for the Caribbean in Trinidad & Tobago.
Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, ECLAC
executive secretary since 2008, talks with Granma
about how the region has battled with the crisis and
her assessment of the current process of updating
the Cuban economic model.
The financial crisis demands a re-discussion
of the role of the state in promoting growth. What
is your opinion in this context?
ECLAC talks about the renewed role
of the state because we are emerging from a period
in which in which it became very clear that the self-regulatory
market was not the solution, it was not helping us
to solve the serious problems of distribution which
we have. We are the most unequal region in the world
and this is due, to a large extent, to the fact that
a solely market based model leads to greater
inequality. By definition, this proposal always
privileges the winners, not because they are good or
bad, but because the allocation of resources is made
under other criteria.
We think that the role of the state
is essential in order to regulate a market which is
capable of encouraging initiative, innovation,
efficiency, but always with a very clear idea of the
development objectives being pursued. It is the
state which can regulate economic activity in order
to ensure that profits from productivity are
distributed in a more equitable manner.
Every country must decide on the
kind of model which it wishes to follow, the kind of
balance which must exist between the state,
productive entities and society. This is the so-called
social pact. And it also moves through a fiscal pact
where citizens decide how much to contribute and
invest in their own progress. This taxation rate is
what is going to generate income looking toward the
future. The state creates policies to implement
stability and economic growth, productive
development, job promotion and greater social
That is why it is fundamental to
redefine the role of the state in order to generate
appropriate conditions which will lead to
sustainable development with equality. In other
words, to propose a vision in which the state
occupies a central role in economic and social
What is the region’s real capacity
for confronting the crisis?
The economic crisis, which had a
severe impact on the region in 2009, exposed the
structural deficiencies which are blocking progress
in Latin America and prompted questions on its
capacity to confront the new panorama.
The crisis destroyed social progress
in Latin America. Having consolidated itself as the
most unequal place in the world, a problem was
created the solution of which lies in having to
rethink the way in which the state was relegated in
terms of economic decisions in recent decades.
However, the region has learnt many
things from the past. I believe that it has
macroeconomic wisdom, greater economic discipline.
It has learnt how to manage inflation, the external
debt and public finances more carefully. Latin
America has succeeded in accumulating international
reserves, but above all has understood that a
society which is much more interconnected in
relation to social issues is far stronger in the
face of crises.
On the other hand, we still have
many challenges. One of those is how to increase
investment in infrastructure and production and
retain the capacity to maintain social spending,
particularly related to increasing human capital,
and to concentrate investment in productive and
In general terms, I believe that the
region has made its way through this crisis much
better than in other areas. We can see a
deceleration of growth but not such a sharp fall as
elsewhere. This resistance is due, fundamentally, to
responding with fiscal stimulation, social and
commercial programs, among others.
Bárcena also made reference to the
process underway in Cuba of updating its economic
These guidelines for the economic
and social policy of the Communist Party are
defining how to advance toward more concrete and
sustainable policies of financing development, which
would come from the country’s own productivity, and
with mechanisms of solidarity. Cuba has made a very
serious commitment to fulfilling that. I perceive an
atmosphere of enormous enthusiasm for implementing,
moving forward, revitalizing, building.
It is also clear that Cuba is
seeking a balance between what the state can resolve
by itself and what requires a pact between it and
society to take the country’s project forward.
There is a marvelous opportunity
here to create a progressive fiscal and progressive
base, in contrast to other countries where fiscal
policies are inadequate because taxes are fixed on
the basis of consumption and not on the heritage of
Fiscal policies require an element
of solidarity, which is not an issue for the Cuban
system, given that it is by definition equitable and
The major challenge is how to
preserve the magnificent achievements of the
Revolution in relation to health, education, social
equality; how to consolidate these social
achievements through economic sustainability.
I have seen great clarity in
President Raúl Castro’s speeches, and openness in
relation to the importance of combating corruption.
The explicit way in which the issue has been
addressed made a strong impression on me. A very
courageous way of saying that this project of
socialism, of Revolution, can only have one enemy: