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Has Latin America's Tragic COVID Year Created Another Economic 'Lost Decade'?

Rebecca Blackwell
A man wearing a protective mask walks past a store in central Mexico City shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Latin America is the new global epicenter for COVID-19. But it may also be the new epicenter for pandemic-related economic collapse.

Nothing makes people in Latin America and the Caribbean more uncomfortable than the term “Lost Decade.” It refers mainly to the 1980s, when the region’s economies crashed under the weight of massive debt. The question now is whether the past decade has been lost, under the strain of COVID-19.

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In a report this week, the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, is raising that fear. Because of the economic shock from the pandemic, it says the region’s GDP is likely to shrink more than 9 percent this year.

Combined with dismal economic performance from the last few years, ECLAC fears that would set back Latin America’s per capita GDP to 2010 levels. The commission says that essentially represents another “lost decade” for the region.

Meanwhile, the Pan American Health Organization reports this week the number of COVID-19 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean has passed the total in the U.S. and Canada.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.