When the UN decided to hold a conference on Science and Technology for development back in 1979 neither Europe nor the United States were prepared to face a rebellion staged by young Latin Americans that wanted Science and Technology to become the development lever it had never been. Tunisia chaired the Group of 77 but it was within the Latin American Group that forward thinking ideas to insert science and technology into people’s everyday lives came to being. And the Latins fought to get their ideas into del Action Plan adopted by the conference. And the ideas were blessed by the international community to never bee execute anywhere in the developing world beginning with Latin America.
The Latin Group which I had the honor to chair and that included Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica followed the writings and development approach of a quite talented young technocrat from Peru. His name is Francisco ( Paco) Sagasti the current President of Peru. Those radically centrist ideas contemplated smart spending in education so as to teach children to think and resolve problems; to improve linkages with the world economy reducing protection so as to promote competition in the business space; to boost applied research by means of connecting research centers to private businesses and to promote “technological innovation circles” now known as start up nurseries in the jargon of Silicon Valley. Needless to say that 40 years down the road no Latin country has executed any of these ideas.
Over the same time span, Mr Sagasti has published about 25 books which disclose every aspect of underdevelopment including the indestructible corporativist institutional framework created at the time of the Spanish occupation of America and preserved by inertia and a very strong web of particular interests . The results of such sinister anachronism are quite visible. Latin America is behind Asia in productivity; trade creation ; innovation and development. And as Covid 19 wrecked the global supply chain most productive nations stand a chance of engage in valued trade creation in the post Covid 19 economy. But this opportunity in Latin America seems to be reserved to Mexico. Not on account of the country’s own merits but because a free trade agreement with the United States and Canada has slowly but surely promote the ideas contained in the UNCSTD Action Plan one of the authors being Francisco Sagasti today President of Peru.
Mr Sagasti represents a very distinguished generation of public policy makers turned into thinkers and writers given that their ideas do not seem to be popular South of the Rio Grande. Indeed, several of these thinkers , including Miguel Rodriguez-Fandeo; Moises Naim and Ricardo Hausmann have become international stars after begin sacked by Venezuela’s elites and political parties when they held ministerial posts at the Carlos Andres Perez administration . Mr Perez was also sacked imprisoned and denied due process according to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. These past events have most certainly shed light on the perils of breaking the Gordian Knot of particular interests in Latin America. These interests have hijacked development in the region for 500 years while ejecting all leaderships that have attempted to undo the knot. Should Mr Sagasti succeed in transferring power to a leader chosen by the Peruvian people in free elections and pass two crucial reforms ( stabilize the Covid19 situation and the Peruvian economy) , perhaps the flame of constructive change will finally take hold. And it could save Chile from committing suicide as Argentina did in the 1940s when began a slow but unending march from development to underdevelopment.