The forum took place on May 10th.

On May 10, Latin America(n) Matters hosted the 7th annual Latin American Matters (LAM) Policy Forum. This year, the event’s theme was Challenges in America: Democracy and Development. Latin America(n) Matters is a Harris student organization (HSO) that seeks to promote the discussion and better understanding of economic, social and political issues in Latin American countries through a public policy approach – and the LAM Policy Forum serves as a fitting capstone to the group’s activities for the year

The Forum featured opening and closing ceremonies, three panels, and a final ceremony at the Keller Center, as well as informal discussion between the events taking place throughout the day.

One guest, Jorge Quiroga – the former Bolivian President, Vice-President, and President of the country’s National Congress – displayed how the history of Latin American countries is different than the one people perceive if they attempt to fit certain words to problems. Quiroga’s response to the open-ended question “Can you talk about Evo Morales?” focused on the importance of understanding the deeper trends in Bolivia and Latin American countries in general. Quiroga directed his attention at the systemic issues which cause problems in Latin American countries. “The real problem is not populism, it’s continuism [of these issues],” he emphasized.

Other invited guests to the Forum included Argentinians Andrés Neumeyer, former chief economist of the central bank of Argentina, Jazmín Gustale, Innovation and Competitiveness coordinator for the office of the president, and José Luis Espert, an economist, author, and respected political commentator.

Three of the Forum’s guests were University of Chicago professors. Each of them shared their expertise: Fernando Álvarez (Argentina), the Saieh Family Professor in Economics and the College, moderated the Macroeconomic Stability: Key to Development panel, which used current numbers for economic development in Latin America to indicate trends in the region’s growth Yanilda María González (Brazil), an assistant professor at the School of Social Service Administration, moderated the panel New Governments, New Politics? Understanding the Expectations, which discussed the frameworks through which individuals should perceive the economic status, as well as political status, of Latin America; and Alicia Menendez (Argentina), research associate (associate professor) at Harris, moderated Public-Private Partnerships: Economy, Politics, and Social Development, which discussed the logistics of investment in Latin America using public-private partnerships between Latin American governments and private-sector governments. 

Though some countries, such as Venezuela, face serious challenges, the speakers remain hopeful. For Santiago Peña, who spoke during the Public-Private Partnerships: Economy, Politics, and Social Development block, this hope comes from productive gatherings such as the LAM Forum.

“I have no doubt that despite all the difficulties we are facing in Latin America and across the world, the human investment at Harris will pay off,” said Peña, a bank manager from Paraguay, who formerly served as the country’s Minister of Finance and as an economist for the International Monetary Fund in addition to running for president.

Colombian speaker Glaucia Calp, who is the Latin America Group Head of Fitch Ratings, focusing on global infrastructure and project finance, spoke during the same topic discussion. During her time to speak, Calp shared ways to think about the logistics of public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements. “The way we think about infrastructure in developing economies is how we are able to pay for it,” she said. “It is an ability discussion instead of a willingness one.”

Panelists joked throughout Q&A portions about the fact that their specific expertise about Venezuela and its political culture and history was leading them to overly focus on discussing the country’s governmental crisis, yet they emphasized the deep connections between Latin American countries—a label which included countries on the South American continent—who have developed and continue to develop according to values which tend to be shared.

The LAM Forum used connection and hospitality to foster relationships which will flourish even at a distance. Five Latin American countries—Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Mexico, and Brazil—were represented in the moderated panels, and even more national perspectives were shared by Harris students and other guests.

The event was cosponsored International House, who additionally hosted the Forum, Latin American Matters, the Pearson Institute for The Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, Colombians at UChicago, the Graduate Council at the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago Mexican Association, the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, Student Government, and the Organization of Latin American Students.

 “I’m super glad I volunteered to work at this year’s LAM Forum; this is one of the best events for  Latin American students or students from all around the country to get to know more about the Latin American region and politics and economics,” said Adri Fuster MPP Class of 2020. “To anyone who might be interested, please come and join us next year. We would be glad to have you here.”