The Eighth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean opened today in Montevideo.

The importance of digitization in designing and implementing people-centred public policies and as a path to sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean was highlighted today by participants at the opening of the Eighth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is taking place in Montevideo, Uruguay, until Friday, 18 November.

The Conference, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in conjunction with the Government of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, through the Agency for Electronic Government and Information Society (Agesic), aims to define a set of policy priorities at the regional level to promote digital transformation with a vision of sustainable development, within the framework of the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC 2024).

The inauguration was attended by Rodrigo Ferrés, Deputy Secretary of the Presidency of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay; José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC; Pablo Ruiz Hiebra, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Uruguay, and Hebert Paguas, Executive Director of Agesic.

The Assistant Secretary Rodrigo Ferrés welcomed those present on behalf of the Uruguayan Government, highlighted the role of the State in the design of public policies that have taken into account the needs of the people and underlined the cross-cutting nature of digital technologies and digitisation. “The issues that we will discuss at the meeting, especially digitalisation, which is advancing more and more and better, are very well thought-out and necessary instruments, but they must be used in the best possible way, taking into account public purposes, the general interest and people’s rights,” he said.

Hebert Paguas of Agesic presented the country’s progress in the different ambits of digitalisation and indicated that these experiences will be a contribution to the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean eLAC2024, which is being discussed in Montevideo. “We want more agile services for our country and the region, with people at the centre,” Paguas stressed, highlighting the need to advance in digital citizenship and digital transformation.

“Talking about the future means talking about information, science, change in work, the fourth industrial revolution. From UN Uruguay we will work with the Government and all sectors of society on the bets that the country must make to make the definitive leap towards development,” said Pablo Ruiz Hiebra, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Uruguay.

In a complex global and regional context, in which multiple crises converge, “digitalisation is one of the priority areas for the transformation of the development model in Latin America and the Caribbean”, said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, who pointed out that “in order to move towards a true process of digital inclusion, a set of actions and policies is required to facilitate the use and adoption of digital technologies in all segments of the population, businesses and government institutions”.

Between 2014 and 2023, the region will experience the lowest growth of the last seven decades (0.8%), lower than that recorded in the so-called lost decade of the 1980s due to the debt crisis, warned ECLAC’s top representative. “We must work both on reducing inequality and on wealth creation, which involves productive development policies and digital transformation policies in a very important way,” said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, calling for the positive effects of digital technologies to be boosted and for the challenges of inequality, privacy, security, competition and data protection to be addressed.

“The Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean, eLAC, which is 17 years old today, has generated enormous capacities for dialogue and cooperation and its agreements were crucial to consolidate a common vision on the mechanisms needed to enhance the impact of digital technologies on development,” he said.

After the opening session, the ECLAC Executive Secretary presented the document A digital path for sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be discussed by representatives of government, the private sector, the technical community and civil society participating in the regional meeting.

The senior official explained that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitisation in the region and highlighted that the State has been a major driver of digital transformation; however, persistent connectivity gaps condition social inclusion.

In 2021, the average household fixed broadband penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean reached almost 62%, which places the region well below other regions such as North America and Europe, which have penetration levels close to 100% and 90%, respectively. The differences are also significant in the case of mobile broadband, which has a penetration of 78% of the population in the region, and 105% and close to 150% in the cases of Europe and North America, respectively.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs specified that 1/4 of urban households and 2/3 of rural households have yet to be connected. Unconnected households in the lowest income quintile, he said, are three times more than those in the highest income quintile in the region.

Currently in the region, half of young people aged 13-25, 1/3 of children aged 5-12 and 1/4 of adults over 66 are “not connected”.

Industrialised countries put digitalisation at the heart of productive development policies, said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, who mentioned five ambits of action that ECLAC will be proposing for sustainable and inclusive digitalisation in the region: 1) generating enabling conditions (which involves expanding service coverage, ensuring effective universal coverage, speeding up the deployment of advanced mobile networks such as 5G and developing digital skills); 2) developing digital solutions; 3) driving digital transformation (favouring, for example, entrepreneurship and innovation and fostering the digitisation of companies); 4) establishing digital governance; and 5) strengthening regional cooperation and integration (promoting, among other things, a regional digital market).

The Ministerial Conference panels will address topics such as investment, infrastructure and connectivity; governance and regulation and regional digital market; innovation, entrepreneurship and digital transformation; digitisation for greater inclusion; competences and skills for transforming societies; cybersecurity and critical assets; digital trade and SMEs; green transition in a digital world; smart cities; digital government and citizen participation; and cooperation and strategic alliances for a new digitisation, to name a few.