Session in honour of Mr Enrique V. Iglesias, Secretary General of SEGIB


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the European Commission in honour of Mr. Enrique V. Iglesias, Secretary General of SEGIB (also available in Spanish)

Brussels, France, 10 February 2014

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a momentous occasion. We are here to honour Don Enrique Iglesias, a Latin American giant. Don Enrique is one of those great public figures that - whatever he does and wherever he goes - leaves a lasting mark in our minds, in our hearts, in our souls.

Nobody in his time has devoted more energy and dedication to promote inclusive growth and shared prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nobody has struggled so hard to put Latin America and the Caribbean on the world map of economic, social and environmental relevance. If Pablo Neruda came back today to continue the Canto General he would dedicate a whole chapter to Enrique Iglesias and his quest for Latin American integration.

For over forty years, Enrique Iglesias has been leading the cause for Latin American and Ibero-American cooperation, first in the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) from 1972 to 1985, then for seventeen years as President of the Inter-American Development Bank (1988-2005) and since 2008 as Secretary-General of the Ibero-American Secretariat (SEGIB). And in between these assignments, he even found time to help Kofi Annan on various UN High Commissions to promote peace and security around the world and to reform the UN itself!

In his illustrious career, Enrique has been the shining light for economic development in Latin America but also for democratic and human values. In ECLAC, in the time of Pinochet’s coup in Chile, he offered safe-haven and then safe-conduct to many whose life was threatened by the dictator. At the Inter-American Development Bank, he oriented the organisation towards the social problems that affect Latin America: poverty, inequality, and social exclusion, to name a few. His association and his complicity with James Wolfensohn and Michel Camdessus to address poverty is legendary.

And at SEGIB he has continued this drive with projects to promote better education and innovation and keep the region on the straight and narrow, a tough job indeed.

His many prizes and decorations received from dozens of countries around the world are a testimony of our appreciation for his contribution. And on top of all this, Enrique is also Doctor or Profesor Iglesias, an academic with a long list of publications on issues related to Latin America and Uruguay. And more than ten honoris causa doctorates!

Born in Spain from Uruguayan family, he always played the role of a great builder of bridges between the two continents. It is therefore very appropriate that he is now heading SEGIB, the ultimate institution for this purpose. But precisely because he was born in Spain, he is the best President which Uruguay never had. A terrible waste indeed. He was nevertheless Minister of Planning, Central Banker, Minister of Foreign Affairs and advisor to every single President regardless of political colouring.

I met Enrique more than 40 years ago, while he visited my future father in law, Carlos Quintana, the then Executive Secretary of ECLAC. He was wearing Bell Bottoms and long, wide sideburns, and a huge head of hair. A few years later, he got the job at ECLAC as Quintana’s successor.

I have had the honour and the privilege of working close to Enrique, sometimes with him and sometimes even for him, during all these years. As they say in Spanish football, I am definitely part of Enrique’s “groupies”. Since the early days when Enrique was heading ECLAC until his most recent appointment at the SEGIB, our collaboration has been growing at the same steady pace as our friendship. Among many events, I particularly remember the 7th Capital Replenishment of the IADB in Amsterdam, a great achievement indeed.

When I left government in 2000, after 33 years of public service, he immediately called me and offered me a job, an office and a mission in Washington. “You shouldn’t get depressed”, he said. It was a much needed boost to my morale, my ego and my income. We then worked together on water issues as part of the Camdessus panel on the subject. When I inherited the panel’s chair from Michel, Enrique stayed on board. We were precursors; proudly, I say today, we were right.

In SEGIB, I invite you to read his report about his two mandates, which is vintage Iglesias: a sobering mix of context, diagnoses, policy and reality.

Enrique has been one of our greatest allies in strengthening the links between the OECD and Latin America. Thanks to Enrique, the presentation during the Ibero-American Summits of our flagship study on the region, the Latin American Economic Outlook (LEO), is already a well-established tradition.

The LEO’s 7th edition, launched in October 2013 in Panama, revealed a changed international context for the region, with slower growth in emerging market economies, including China, and the normalisation of monetary conditions in the US posing challenges for macroeconomic management in the region. Regional growth in 2013 was lower than 3%, well below the 4% of the last decade (2003-2012). Brazil’s GDP grew by only 2.6%, while Mexico grew only by 1.3%.

But what these numbers highlight is the economic challenge that Enrique has been warning about for decades: the persistent and still growing dependence of many Latin American and Caribbean economies on commodities. Indeed, in 2012, commodities accounted for nearly 60% of the region’s merchandise exports, up from 40% in 2000.

As in the past, the rise in commodity exports has led to a slowdown in regional manufacturing. To benefit from the Asian century, Latin America must keep diversifying its exports and capturing more value added.

Better and more accessible education, skills, and health care, an extensive transport infrastructure, pro-innovation and pro-competition policies and a low administrative burden for new ventures are essential to deepen the transformation of the region towards stronger and more inclusive growth.

Latin America’s public sector itself needs to go through a process of modernisation. In addition to strengthening public sector governance by fighting corruption and inefficiencies, tax reform is a pending agenda. This is evidenced by the low revenue collection in the region, as reported in our publication Revenue Statistics in Latin America 2014, published a few days ago, with the support of the Spanish government (like the LEO).

All these efforts should be geared towards two major objectives: raising productivity and promoting inclusiveness. The region’s productivity gap relative to the OECD economies has not narrowed in the last three decades. In fact, the two Latin American members of the OECD, Chile and Mexico, continue to have the lowest productivity levels of all OECD countries. Structural reforms should be a priority for the region, and I’m sure Enrique is as encouraged as I am to see Mexico and other countries in the region finally following the path of major structural reforms.

There are also new opportunities for enhancing prosperity that require the political leadership and regional cooperation which Enrique has been calling for and championing for decades, such as the Pacific Alliance. This agreement has a vast potential to boost growth and deepen integration in the region, after the modest results of decades of ALALC, ALADI, MERCOSUR, etc.

But the greatest challenge of the region, in spite of recent improvements, is still the high levels of poverty, the vulnerability and the inequality that prevail in virtually all Latin American countries. These are still the region’s scourge and its greatest obstacle to achieving strong, sustained and sustainable growth.

Let’s pay Enrique our debt of gratitude by following his example. Let’s make Enrique’s struggle our struggle. Let’s get inspiration from his inspiration. Let’s get energy from his energy; courage from his courage; wisdom from his wisdom; passion from his passion; and compassion from his compassion. Let’s follow his lead towards better policies for better lives in a prosperous, fair and united Latin America.

Thank you always, my dearest friend! You have made us all proud!

Also available: 
Sesión en honor del Sr. Enrique V. Iglesias, Secretario General de la SEGIB



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