On Thursday September 29, UDLA Ecuador hosted an international conference from the Biarritz Forum titled "Latin America: two models, one region," which addressed issues related to democracy in Latin America. Participants in the event included Osvaldo Hurtado, the former President of Ecuador, Carlos Mesa, the former President of Bolivia, and Ernesto Samper former President of Colombia. The event was hosted by Dr. Carlos Larreátegui Nardi, Rector of Universidad de Las Américas, who recognized the great privilege the university had to host these American statesmen.
- Dr. Osvaldo Hurtado, the former President of Ecuador, began with a review of the Ecuadorian political system during the last five years. He confirmed the key characteristics of a democratic system, summarized in the Interamerican Democratic Letter, which includes; free and fair elections, authorities that are answerable to the legal system, a clear role for different political parties, division of power, judicial independence and clear guarantees of civil rights. He reviewed the progress and prosperity that many nations have enjoyed through representative democracy and then moved to question the political situation in Ecuador during the last several years that has been characterized by increased executive branch strength, which has in turn affected the factors essential for a functional representative democracy.
- Dr. Carlos Mesa, the former President of Bolivia, recognized that Latin America has lived through some important economic and social changes and has seen a growing role for the state. Above and beyond ideological differences, all the countries in the region have invested in social projects to alleviate inequalities. At the same time the majority of countries understood that the responsible management of the macroeconomy was a primary role for the state, which has enabled these countries to live through the recent global financial crises. During the 1990s, a concept of democracy based on common values and pluralism thrived. However, the interpretation of democracy in some countries (like Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Panama) is rather different than in others (like Uruguay, Brazil, Chile or Costa Rica). He questioned those governments that have shown a tendency towards more authoritarianism, which limits the ability of citizens to express their opinions.
- Dr. Ernesto Samper, the former President of Colombia, stated that the region's development model was created during independence and focuses on a varying degree of state intervention. After the debt crisis and inflation during the 1980s and the Washington Consensus of the 1990s, the goal of creating an integrated Latin American economy contrasted with specific interests of the larger regional economies, which resulted in the creation of free trade agreements. The lack of concrete opportunities to reduce social inequalities and slow growth led to a break that resulted in two paradigms: the countries of Mexico and Central America became aligned to the United States, with whom they keep strong commercial ties, and South America with more traditional economies focused on agriculture and natural resources.
The forum was attended by the general public as well as students and other members of the UDLA community. The discussion was moderated by economist Abelardo Pachano, former Director of the Central Bank of Ecuador, a renowned public servant and an expert in national and international finance.