Francis and Latin America
Before being elected as the first ever Latin American pope, on March 23, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had spent 76 years almost continuously in Latin America. He acknowledged this in his opening greeting, saying he had been chosen from “the ends of the earth.”
It was an unprecedented event in the 2,000 year history of the Church. (Another milestone was that a Jesuit had been elected bishop of Rome), but over the years it has proved to be anything but secondary. Indeed, in various ways it has had consequences that place it on a higher level than that of being merely incidental.
In fact, in the first eight years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, his previous existential experiences have not only shown themselves as the fruit, conscious and active or unconscious and passive, of his long years spent in Latin America, but have also given rise to an undoubted benefit: the legacy of a rich body of speeches that the pope has produced in, for and from the Latin American region.
Those 76 years lived in Argentina, replete with pastoral, educational and episcopal ties, more or less explicitly deepened his knowledge of the Latin American regional context. They appear today as the fabric that supports and informs many of the messages the pope has addressed to that region, and also to the rest of the world.
In this context, among the most innovative themes that run through the pope’s speeches, concern and interest stand out for what we could broadly call “processes of regional integration.” While on the one hand Francis has stated on more than one occasion his appreciation for the historical forces that contributed to the moves to unify the Old Continent, and commends the commitment of those whom he calls “the founding fathers” of the European Union, he has also had words of support for the processes of Latin American integration.
The conceptual perspective from which the pope looks at integration beyond the short-term reversals that have characterized the continuous oscillation of Latin American politics. What he said, in reference to the importance he attaches to the unity of the continent, hints at an extensive body of knowledge acquired over nearly eight decades spent in the region, whether deliberately, through specific readings, or less consciously, a body of insights which we might trace back to that historical culmination of regional thinking on the subject that spanned the 1960s and 1970s.
When, for example, the pontiff refers to the importance of Latin American unity processes and the role that the region, as a single bloc, can play in the international context in the coming years, it is not difficult to pick up traces of the category of “continental states” formulated by the Uruguayan writer Alberto Methol Ferré. The same thought pattern is conceivable when Francis explicitly acknowledges his admiration for the pioneers of the continental independence enterprises of the early 19th century, such as those led by José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, as well as others less celebrated by official histories, such as that led by the great Latin American patriot from Uruguay, José Gervasio Artigas.
In the speeches that the pontiff addresses to the Latin American region, one can note an innovative line of interpretation – in light of the times and of the Chair of Peter – based on the reflections of a whole series of Latin American thinkers who, free from ideological constraints imported from abroad, have come together significantly in that vast and deep ocean of Bergoglio’s thought, a line of interpretation born during his time in the periphery and that now, from the center – Rome – returns reworked with new meanings to Latin America where it had originated.
In those 76 years spent in the Latin American region, Bergoglio was not only nourished by academic readings and inspirations. He came to serve the universal Church as shepherd of Rome with a great wealth of daily experiences that had shaped him at “the ends of the earth.” The pope himself, for example, has recalled how the foundations of the bridges he built toward other religions go back to an interreligious dialogue that he had experienced during his years as a student in Argentina, when living together with children of immigrants from diverse parts of the world, forged his interreligious and ecumenical conscience.
To this sui generis academic and experiential background one cannot but add the acute precision with which Francis describes the most varied situations on the continent, based on his knowledge of the idiosyncrasies, cultures and traditions of more than a dozen countries, despite the fact that as a bishop he did not made many trips outside his native country.
Within this framework, there are two aspects of his life prior to his election as pope that provide us with important interpretative keys. On the one hand, there is his pastoral experience in Buenos Aires, during which, as a bishop close to the neediest in the villas miseria of the Argentine capital, he had the opportunity to come into contact with individuals from the most diverse countries of the Latin American region. From here – as we can assume with a certain degree of probability – he derived much of his knowledge not only of their cultures and customs, but also of the specificities of popular religiosity in each of them.
The geography and demographics of his Argentine homeland are also significant for understanding the pope from this perspective. In addition to the second or third generations of European immigrants who had already put down roots in the country, in the last decades of the 20th century Argentina became a hub that welcomed thousands of South American migrants. Immersed in such a situation, Bergoglio was in direct contact with immigrants who enriched his view of the rest of the continent.
On the other hand, during the period he spent as Jesuit provincial, he was a firm promoter of exchanges with other countries in the region and had various works of Latin American thought included in the curricula of Jesuit training. That academic-cultural dynamic allowed him to enrich in many ways their encounters with other Latin American cultures. Moreover, as pastor of the Church of the Patriarch Saint Joseph in his years as rector of the Colegio Máximo of San Miguel, he maintained a close relationship with the Paraguayan community gathered around the Church of the Holy Martyrs.
Finally, it can be assumed that much of this Latin American (as well as Latin Americanist) background flowed into the Final Document of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, which was held in the Brazilian city of Aparecida in 2007, for which Bergoglio was entrusted with leading the drafting commission. In guiding it he forged part of his culture of encounter and dialogue.
This document can perhaps be considered the last of the great contributions of the Latin American episcopate to the universal Church. It was, as many commentators lead us to believe, the point at which the future pope finished forging his Latin Americanist conscience: the pontiff himself acknowledged that it was in 2007 that his concern for the environment was reawakened following the talks he had with the Brazilian bishops; a decade later this would result in the encyclical Laudato Si’ and then his contribution to the Synod dedicated to the Amazon.
In fact, in light of subsequent events, many scholars have seen the Aparecida Document as the “conceptual beginning” of his pontificate. Even during his first months as pope, and up until the publication of Evangelii Gaudium in late 2013, Francis gave a copy of the Document to more than one head of state who visited him.
But if the influence of Latin America on Bergoglio in his first 76 years of life is a fundamental aspect of his thought, the personal reflections that he has dedicated to the region have become equally inescapable, enabling us to delineate that “two-way highway” that we propose as an image to visualize the pontiff’s connection with Latin America.
Pope Francis has made seven trips to Latin America, during which he has visited 10 countries in the region. In the course of those visits he addressed various messages to the peoples of this continent, which counts more Catholics than any other in the world. Each message is marked by sensitivity and knowledge of their realities, concerns and challenges. You can clearly see the mark of the years spent in Argentina.
In his visits to Latin America there are common threads that refer to the general characteristics of the region, themes common to the countries from the shores of the Río Bravo, in the North, to Ushuaia, in the extreme South, and that at the same time manifest the particular realities of each individual nation. Each of them is a face of the polyhedron that composes the Latin American reality as a whole.
At the same time, those who read his words must also consider, as a paratextual element, the place where they were spoken. Throughout his travels in the region, the pope has delivered speeches of global significance from places of enormous symbolism and significance with regard to the chosen theme. Clear manifestations of this are his words on immigration, delivered on the border between Mexico and the United States in 2016 – a threshold that has become the site of the drama of thousands of people in the four-year period 2016-20 – as well as his calls for dialogue, in September 2015, delivered from Cuba, which had just restored relations with the United States.
The main themes of the pope’s speeches concerning the Latin American region
As much as Pope Bergoglio’s considerations on Latin America go far beyond the speeches made during his travels, the words he has uttered during his apostolic trips to the region constitute a sufficient corpus for the purposes of this article, which should be considered a first glance at some of the regional issues – which, as we will see, are also universal – considered a priority by the first pontiff who was born and raised in Latin America.
Among these themes, five have appeared more frequently in the pope’s speeches. We will present them in this article: references to the so-called “founding fathers” of Latin America; his words to Latin American women; his speeches to the youth of the Continent; his encounters with people deprived of their freedom; and, finally, the criticism of corruption and liberalism that accompany the call for an economy “with a human face.”
The founding fathers and the ‘Patria Grande’
In a context where Latin America’s integration process is several decades behind European unity, its longest-lived institution, MERCOSUR, has just turned 30 years old, without the member countries, beyond the steps forward and backward made in its expansion, having yet agreed on issues such as tariffs, a common currency or the full functioning of the regional Parliament, and is still limping in terms of the role of representativeness and their powers, and therefore unable to make binding decisions.
It is in this context that, since the beginning of his pontificate, the pope has restored value and importance to the processes of regional integration. Perhaps one of the most explicit references was his first speech delivered during his visit, in January 2019, to Panama, to a country that is the natural hinge between Central and South America and therefore constitutes a key point in any possible unification of the two subcontinents. “I begin my pilgrimage in this historic place where Simón Bolívar – as Mr. President has just recalled – affirmed that ‘if the world were to choose its capital, the Isthmus of Panama would be marked out for this august destiny,’ and summoned the leaders of his time to forge the dream of the unification of the Patria Grande,” the pope said on that occasion, and then added the need for: “A convocation that helps us to understand that our peoples are capable of creating, forging and above all dreaming of a great homeland that knows how to welcome, respect and embrace the multicultural richness of every people and culture.”
The words expressed by the pope in 2016, in a letter sent to the president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference on the occasion of the celebrations for the 200 years of independence of his country, were of a similar tenor. In it, he invited people to pray for “the Patria Grande, the dream of San Martín and Bolívar” and asked that “the Lord guard it, make it strong, more sisterly and defend it from every kind of colonization.”
On his trip to Bolivia in 2015, meeting with representatives of popular movements, Francis issued a special invitation to continue the process of continental unity begun 200 years earlier: “In recent years, after so many misunderstandings, many countries of Latin America have seen fraternity grow among their peoples. The governments of the region have joined forces to enforce respect for their sovereignty, that of each country and that of the region as a whole, which they so beautifully, like our ancestors, called the ‘Patria Grande.’ I ask you, brothers and sisters of the popular movements, to care for and increase this unity. Maintaining unity against all attempts at division is necessary for the region to grow in peace and justice.”
Whether we are talking about the country that is the link between the two South American areas (Panama), or whether we are talking about one of the most innovative forms of popular organization that the region can show (Bolivia), or about his native Argentina, it is evident that the pope has set his sights on a process of integration that recovers the legacy of the first enterprises, while avoiding entering into partisanship and factiousness.
Latin American women
The pope’s references to Latin American women have been a constant in his words about the region, beginning with Francis’ high esteem for them as, in his view, they have been able to guard and transmit the faith through the generations.
During his trip to Paraguay in 2015, he said, “All of you, all Paraguayans have the living memory of a people who made flesh these words of the Gospel. And I would like to refer in a special way to you Paraguayan women and mothers, who, with great courage and self-sacrifice, have been able to raise up a country destroyed, sunk, submerged by an unjust war. You have the memory, you have the genetic heritage of those who have rebuilt the life, the faith, the dignity of your people, together with Mary. You have lived through very, very difficult situations which, according to common logic, would be contrary to any faith. Instead, urged on and sustained by the Virgin, you continued to believe, even ‘hoping against hope.’ When everything seemed to collapse, together with Mary you said to yourselves: let us not fear, the Lord is with us; he is with our people, with our families; let us do what he tells us. And there you found yesterday and find today the strength not to let this land end in chaos. God bless this tenacity; God bless and comfort your faith; God bless the Paraguayan woman, the most glorious in America.”
The pope’s closeness to and gratitude for the work of women in the Church was also manifested in 2018, when the plenary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America chose as its theme “Woman, pillar in the building of the Church and society in Latin America.” On that occasion the pontiff affirmed that the Latin American peoples are constituted by a blending of races that is still unfinished, unequal, because not all the various races have yet been incorporated into it. And he noted with regret that the Latin woman is the daughter of this process, often marred by violence.
But the pontiff’s references to the role of women are not limited to recognizing a past role. With a discursive dynamism that is always historically pertinent, Francis was able to make current issues his own, starting with embracing the role and concerns of women on the Continent.
So it was that during his visit to Peru in 2018, Francis warned about the “numerous cases of feminicide” that plague Latin America: “I want to invite you to fight against a plague that affects our American continent: the numerous cases of feminicide. And there are many situations of violence that are silently concealed behind many walls. I invite you to fight against this source of suffering by calling for the promotion of legislation and a culture of repudiation of all forms of violence.”
On the same trip the pope reiterated that “we cannot ‘normalize’ violence, take it as a natural thing. No, we do not ‘normalize’ violence against women by supporting a macho culture that does not accept the leading role of women in our communities.”
Once again it was a discourse in the region, for the region and from the region to the world. That year, gender-based violence had already been revealed as a global emergency, and in this respect the UN had found that Latin America and the Caribbean was the area of the planet with the highest rates of violence against women, with the world’s highest rate of sexual violence.
Prisons and the problem of social reintegration
Visits to prisons and centers of imprisonment have been a constant feature in the apostolic journeys of Pope Francis in Latin America. In his encounters with persons deprived of their liberty, he has always proposed a horizon of hope that, in the particularities of each of the centers visited – such as those for women and young people – highlights and articulates his vision, which aims above all at “reintegration.”
“Peter and Paul, disciples of Jesus, were also prisoners. They were also deprived of their freedom,” Francis reminded inmates at a prison in Bolivia in 2015. “Imprisonment is not the same as exclusion – let it be clear – because imprisonment is part of a process of reintegration into society,” he told people deprived of their liberty at the time.
And, responding to a detainee whose testimony he had heard, he said, “There are many elements that play against you in this place, I know it well, and you have mentioned some of them very clearly: overcrowding, the slowness of justice, the lack of occupational therapy and rehabilitation policies, violence, the lack of facilities for university studies…. And this makes it necessary to have a rapid and effective alliance between institutions to find answers.”
In similar terms, Pope Francis addressed the prisoners he met on his 2016 trip to Mexico: “Mercy reminds us that reintegration does not begin here, within these walls, but that it begins earlier, ‘outside,’ in the streets of the city.” He added, “The problem of security is not solved only by incarcerating, but it is a call to intervene to address the structural and cultural causes of insecurity that affect the entire social fabric.”
During his 2018 visit to Chile, in a women’s prison, he tried to give the theme a regional and global perspective: “We all know that many times, unfortunately, the penalty of prison is reduced above all to a punishment, without offering adequate tools to activate processes of reintegration. This is what I was saying about hope: looking ahead, generating processes of reintegration. This must be your dream: reintegration. And even if it is long, continue along this path, do the best you can to make it shorter. But always reintegration. Society has an obligation – an obligation! – to reintegrate all of you. […] Public safety should not be reduced only to measures of greater control, but above all it should be built with preventive measures, with work, education and more community life.”
If in the meetings with prisoners the common denominator had been the call not to lose sight of reintegration, with the same perspective of the future, the pope has always addressed the young people of the region. Thus, in one of the meetings he had with them, he called on them to “dream” and to feel part of a “hope.”
In July 2015, on a visit to Paraguay, Francis prayed to Jesus “for the boys and girls who do not know that you are their fortress, and who are afraid to live, afraid to be happy, afraid to dream.”
In the same year he addressed young Cubans, encouraging them as follows: “You are standing and I am sitting. What a shame! But, do you know why I am sitting? Because I have taken notes of some things that our comrade said and about which I want to speak to you. One word stood out strongly: dreaming. A Latin American writer said that we humans have two eyes, one of flesh and one of glass. With the eye of flesh we see what we look at. With the glass eye we see what we dream. Beautiful, isn’t it? Into the objectivity of life must enter the ability to dream. And a young person who is not capable of dreaming is fenced in, is closed in on him or herself.”
In February 2016, in Mexico, Francis spoke with a young man who said he was saddened that he had lost “the wonder of enjoying the encounter:” “We have lost the wonder of walking together, we have lost the delight of dreaming together, so that this wealth, moved by hope, can take us forward; we need to walk together, we need to meet, and we need to dream. Do not lose the fascinating power of dreaming! Have the courage to dream! To dream, which is not the same as being sleepyheads, right?”
Such positivity also animated the words the pope addressed to the young people he met in Chile in January 2018, exhorting them to “take a risk, take a chance” and proposing to them, “Dear friends, be courageous, go out to meet your friends, those you do not know or who are at a difficult moment.”
Condemnation of neoliberalism and corruption
In a region where in recent decades, especially since the 1990s, the application of neoliberal rules and the factor of corruption have been two sides of the same coin, the pope expressed his clear rejection of both phenomena, in a context where the region has the greatest inequality of the planet in terms of income.
Francis’ first reflections on corruption date back to the early 1990s, and originated in a police case that disturbed Argentina and revealed the enormous corruption present in the police and politics. Nearly 30 years later, returning from his apostolic journey to Chile and Peru, the pope told reporters that in Latin America “there are many hotbeds of corruption.”
Regarding this topic, Francis, while acknowledging that the phenomenon also extends to “some countries of Europe,” said that it has had its own specific development in the context of the Latin American region. In addition to the concrete condemnations of corruption in the political sphere, which are perhaps those on which the media dwell most, Francis denounced the small daily actions that are its practical repercussions: “The politician has a lot of power. The entrepreneur also has a lot of power. An entrepreneur who pays his workers half their due is a corrupt person, and a housewife who is used to and believes that it is the most normal thing possible to exploit the cleaning woman, either in the payment of her salary or in the way she manages her, is a corrupt person, because she considers this conduct as normal,” he said in that same conversation.
Francis had already spoken with equal force during his trip to Peru, when he invited people to “be very attentive to another form – often subtle – of societal degradation that progressively pollutes the entire fabric of life: corruption. How much harm this social ‘virus’ causes to our Latin American peoples and to the democracies of this blessed continent, a phenomenon that infects everything, and the poor and mother earth are the most damaged! Whatever can be done to fight against this social scourge deserves the utmost endorsement and support; this struggle engages us all. ‘United to Defend Hope,’ implies a greater culture of transparency among public agencies, the private sector and civil society, and I do not exclude church organizations. No one can claim to be a stranger to this process; corruption is avoidable and requires the commitment of all.”
Francis’ words, once again, took a cue from the local context and expanded to the regional and global contexts. In fact, at the time of his arrival, Peru was reeling from the corruption scandal involving the Brazilian company Odebrecht and the governments of former presidents Alejandro Toledo (2001-06,) Alan García (2006-11,) Ollanta Humala (2011-16) as well as the then-head of state, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Again during his visit to Paraguay in 2015 the pope warned that “no politician can carry out his role, his work, if he is blackmailed by persons favorable to corruption: ‘Give me this, give me this power, give me this, if not, I will do this and that to you…’. This, which happens in all the peoples of the world – because it happens – if a people want to maintain their dignity, they must eliminate it. I am talking about a universal problem,” was how he expressed his denunciation. It was a message similar to those addressed to women, young people and prisoners: they take into account the local problem, but are read in a regional key and have a global scope.
If the pope considers corruption to be the “gangrene” of a society, on the other hand he does not mince his words when he defines as “an economy that kills” the neo-liberal system practiced without restraint in some countries of the region in the wake of the dictatorships of the 1970s, followed by the dizzying rise of the so-called Chicago Boys in the 1990s.
In Bolivia, during the same apostolic journey, meeting with popular movements, he had already set out an indispensable social principle: “The first task is to put the economy at the service of the people: human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. We say no to an economy of exclusion and inequity in which money dominates instead of serving. This economy kills.”
Francis would return to the subject again in Paraguay: “Economic development must have a human face. No to the faceless economy! In their hands is the possibility to offer work to many people and thus give hope to many families. Bringing bread home, offering children a roof, offering health and education are essential aspects of human dignity, and businessmen, politicians, economists must allow themselves to be challenged by these responsibilities. I ask you not to give in to an idolatrous economic model that needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”
Again in Chile, the country in the region that for years has been taken as a model of the supposed virtues of a more market-oriented economy, the pope in 2018 called for “resistance in the face of the advancing technocratic paradigm that privileges the irruption of economic power over natural ecosystems and, consequently, the common good of our peoples.”
On the return flight, conversing with journalists who had accompanied him, Francis recalled that there are “countries in Latin America with liberal policies that have led the country into greater poverty.” In his opinion, “a liberal policy that does not involve all the people is selective and destructive.”
Also within the scope of the pope’s political reflections are his thoughts on the phenomena of media concentration and the transformation of news companies into political actors in modern societies. Regarding this topic, two homilies he delivered in the Casa Santa Marta in 2018 contain a warning about the role of the media in modern democracies. “Dictatorships, all of them, began in this way, with the adulteration of communication, putting communication in the hands of an unscrupulous person, of an unscrupulous government,” he said in his morning homily on June 18. That same day he explained the process by which “there is a law regulating the media and communication, then that law is cancelled; the whole apparatus of communication is given to a company, to a corporation that slanders, tells falsehoods, weakens democratic life. Then the judges come to judge these weakened institutions, these destroyed people. They condemn, and so a dictatorship goes on.” The pope did not refer to any specific country, but the parallels with today’s Latin America were obvious.
A month earlier, in his homily on May 17, he had already warned about the role and use of the media, when they are enslaved to politics with a lower case “p,” rather than to politics conceived for the common good: “In civil life, in political life, when they want to stage a coup d’état, the media begin to speak ill of the people, of the leaders and, with slander and defamation, they smear them. Then justice enters, condemns them and, in the end, the coup is carried out. It is one of the most disgraceful systems.” Such injustice also emerged when “people went to the circus and cheered the fighting between martyrs and beasts or gladiators.”
Toward the future: from the Continent of Hope to the Continent of Reality
The pope used his speeches in Latin America, according to the themes of each trip, to touch on regional issues and concerns, while maintaining a perspective that, while always taking the local dimension as a starting point, never ignores the global one.
Many key points of those speeches, such as the concern about violence against women or the words of support for young people and those deprived of freedom, show that Francis has local problems well in mind, but they also offer conceptual insights that make them appropriate for listening and reading beyond Latin American borders.
One can think that the years spent by the pontiff on the continent, with the experiences, readings and knowledge he had accumulated, gave him the possibility not only to discern which key aspects to emphasize in his speeches on the region, but also to endow them with an even greater symbolism, making the place where they were delivered part of the specific importance of the content.
Thus it was that from Ecuador, one of the richest nations in biodiversity on the planet, he addressed the entire world with a speech on the defense of nature in which he made us reflect on the fact that “being custodians of this wealth that we have received commits us to society as a whole and to future generations.”
On the same trip, when he arrived in Bolivia, which is the South American country with the highest number of indigenous people, Francis asked “humbly for forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church itself, but for the crimes against indigenous peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
This same dialectic between the regional and global dimensions led him to refer to the global situation in the context of the immigration drama tearing Mexico apart in early 2016, following the tightening of U.S. admission policies: “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis that has meant the migration of thousands of people in recent years, whether by train, highway or even on foot crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable roads. This human tragedy that forced migration represents nowadays is a global phenomenon.”
His speeches in the Latin American region show clear traces of the experiences accumulated in the 76 years he has spent there. The pope has shown himself to be a profound expert in the problems of each country and has always delivered messages relevant to the local sphere, inserted in a regional context and at the same time endowed with a global dimension. This is a way of encouraging the region, in the light of historical times, to put into action the call of his predecessors, who had named it the “Continent of Hope,” and to finally transform it into the “Continent of Reality.”
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 7 art. 11, 0721: 10.32009/22072446.0721.11
. Francis has visited these countries during his apostolic journeys: Brazil in 2013; Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in 2015; Cuba (and USA) in 2015; Mexico in 2016 (with a stop in Havana to meet Patriarch Kirill;) Colombia in 2017; Chile and Peru in 2018; and Panama in 2019.
. The Mercado Común del Sur (this is the meaning of the acronym Mercosur) is a process of regional integration that originated with the signing of the so-called “Treaty of Asunción,” on March 26, 1991, by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, which were later joined by Venezuela and finally Bolivia. Its territory covers 14,869,775 square kilometers. The population exceeds 295 million inhabitants. In addition to being the fifth largest economy in the world, it has a rich biodiversity and one of the most important freshwater reserves on the planet: the Guarani aquifer system.
. According to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal), 4,640 women were murdered during 2019 in incidents related to gender difference. With 13 deaths daily, the numbers indicated a growth of 1.8 percent compared to 2018.
. According to the online database World Prison Population List, the figures for South America at the beginning of 2020 showed a rate of 262 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, well above the world average, which is 145 per 100,000 inhabitants. According to data from the Banco interamericano de desarrollo (Bid) from the mid-2020s, another factor in prison overcrowding stems from the significant increase in the use of pre-trial detention: in fact, some 41 percent of inmates have yet to receive a judicial sentence.
. The pope’s constant invitations to young people to look to the future take place within a framework in which, according to data from the International Labor Organization (ILO,) in Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 million do not study, work or receive any training, and more than 30 million find only precarious employment. The youth labor participation rate, at 48.7 percent in 2020, has been on a slightly downward curve since the year 2000, when it was 53.7 percent. This means that today there are more than 52 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the region’s labor force, adding those who are employed and those who, although unemployed, are actively seeking work.
. According to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the gap that characterized countries in the region at the end of 2019 meant that a person born in a wealthy neighborhood in a South American capital had a life expectancy 18 years longer than someone from a poor neighborhood. In addition, according to Cepal data, an estimated 491 million Latin Americans were living on incomes about three times below the poverty line in 2020, while 59 million people who belonged to the middle strata in 2019 experienced a process of declining economic mobility.