Three former heads of state and the current U.S. Secretary of Commerce were among a panel of speakers that discussed the private sector in Latin America Tuesday in Gaston Hall. The panel discussed current economic issues and made recommendations on how to improve the economic situation in Latin America.

The panel, “The Role of the Private Sector in the Competitiveness of the Latin American Region,” was moderated by Ricardo Ernst, a professor in the McDonough School of Business.

Jose Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain; Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico: and Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru were the most distinguished guests on the panel. In addition, major Latin American business figures sat on the panel, including Gustavo Cisneros, chairman of the Cisneros Group of Companies, and Marcelo Claure, founder and CEO of Brightstar Corp. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez spoke at the beginning of the discussion as a special guest.

Earlier in the day, Georgetown announced the release of a virtual academic journal, the Journal of Globalization, Competitiveness and Governability, which will be published three times annually by Georgetown and, an online portal promoting collaboration and cooperation between universities and corporations across Latin America, Spain and Portugal. It will focus on many of the same issues in Latin America, and Ernst will serve as its first editor-in-chief.

Ernst said in his introduction that the World Economic Forum released its competitiveness index, which measures countries’ abilities to compete with others economically, earlier this month. The index revealed that Latin America lagged behind other regions. He said that these results should motivate Latin American leaders to take steps that can improve the region’s economic standing.

“We should start with a collective sense of shame and end with a determination to fix the problems,” he said.

Ernst then invited the panelists to offer their opinions on how to save Latin American nations from the relative decline in their ability to compete with other countries.

Gutierrez began by emphasizing how the political leaders in the panel were successful in improving the economic state of their respective nations.

“Under Aznar, there have been 13 consecutive years of growth in Spain … under President Toledo, we saw a string of growth among the highest in Latin America, even the world … under President Fox, Mexico has gone through a historic transformation, a historic-political transformation,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez also said it is important for Latin American countries to promote international trade and be more open to free-trade agreements.

Cisneros added that “courage, intelligence and excellence” are essential to improving Latin America’s economy.

Fox said it is important for the United States to change its policy toward Latin America.

“[The U.S.] needs to stop intervening in other nations’ [affairs],” Fox said.

He added, however, that it is important for all nations to pay attention to Latin America.

Fox also criticized U.S. President George W. Bush for border walls that have been put up between Mexico and the United States, something he believes inhibits free trade and slows the improvement of Latin American competitiveness in the private sector.

The panel members said that improvements in education, infrastructure, real estate and change in societal mentalities would increase competitiveness for the region.

In his concluding remarks, Ernst said that there remains tremendous hope and potential for Latin America.

“Remember this: the pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” he said.

The event was sponsored by the McDonough School of Business and the Georgetown University Latin American Board.

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