The first decade of the 21st century gave Latin America much to celebrate. Open markets and largely stable economic policies enabled the region to take advantage of surging commodity prices and global demand, leading to several years of sustained growth. Even in the wake of the recent global economic downturn, many nations fared well--recovering quickly due to sound economic choices and continuing internal demand. Strong and consistent economic growth combined with focused public policies began to reverse decades of poverty and inequality and enabled a middle class to blossom. Many regional leaders took advantage of these developments to consolidate democratic institutions and craft new policies to better serve citizens' needs. Confident in their direction, many Latin American countries shined on the world stage, becoming important participants in multilateral institutions and forums.
Yet the decade also held many disappointments. Economic growth continues to be stable but modest compared to other regions of the world. Latin America ranks low in terms of competitiveness and human capital compared to other emerging economies. And, persistent stumbling blocks--poverty and high inequality, corruption, and the threat of transnational criminal organizations to public security--as well as more recent developments--the Honduran coup, and earthquakes in Haiti and Chile--test state and regional institutions. Leaders, particularly those in the Andean region, systematically weaken already feeble institutions, undermining democracy.
Latin America is emerging as a region of increasing differentiation. While seeking greater integration, independence, and sustainable growth, it faces significant challenges to achieving these goals. Mexico and Brazil stand out as leaders within Latin America and are today's bellwethers for how the region will fare in the next decade. How successful leading countries such as Mexico and Brazil are in confronting local and global challenges will set the tone within the region in years to come as well as for relations with the United States.
CFR's Latin America Studies program brings these and other relevant issues to the forefront of research, public debate, and policy discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing the Western Hemisphere. It will stimulate public dialogue and contribute to a better understanding of how the United States might invest in constructive ties with the region. Current projects focus on Brazil, Mexico, Globalization and Democracy, and Cuba.