'Latin America just not getting it together'

Latin America and the Caribbean continue to account for just a fraction of world expenditure on R&D (GERD) and this share appears to have slipped between 1997 and 2002 (from 3.1% to 2.6% - compared to a 7.6% share of world GDP), according to the UNESCO Science Report 2005. Just three countries - Brazil, Mexico and Argentina - contribute 85% of the total.

Of the US$21.7 billion spent on GERD in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2002, Brazil contributed US$13.1 billion, Mexico US$3.5 billion and Argentina US$1.6 billion. Brazil is the only country in the region to devote 1% of GDP to R&D, the R&D effort of Argentina and Mexico amounting to just 0.4% of GDP. In the Caribbean, only Cuba meets the regional average for GERD of 0.6% of GDP.

'The world is globalizing and Latin America is not even getting it together', regrets the report. This is explained by the fact that attempts at intra-regional integration have come up against persistent 'obstacles connected with development problems and political and financial instability'. The report points to 'untapped potential in Latin America and the Caribbean for the horizontal transfer of knowledge and technologies under mutually advantageous conditions'.

Latin America and the Caribbean represents 8.6% of the world population but just 2.5% of the world's scientists. On average, there are just 261 researchers per million population (715 in Argentina, 315 in Brazil and 217 in Mexico). This compares with 112 in India, 633 in China, 2982 in France, 3209 in Germany, 4374 in the USA and 5085 in Japan.

Having a small pool of researchers has not prevented Latin America from increasing its share of world publications between 1991 and 2001 from 1.8% to 3.3% of the total. Brazil has doubled its own share to 1.4%, whereas Argentina's share has climbed from 0.4% to 0.6% and that of Mexico, now an OECD member, from 0.3% to 0.7%. Although Latin American scientists still co-author papers predominantly with their counterparts from Europe and North America, collaboration among Ibero-American colleagues has progressed, as has co-authorship with Asian scientists: from circa 6% in 1997 to over 18% in 2001.

The summary you have just read of the current state of science in Latin America and the Caribbean is taken from an article on the UNESCO Science Report 2005 which appeared in UNESCO's quarterly newsletter, A World of Science, in April 2006

Fostering regional cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Countries have come to realize that, if their region is to take its rightful place on the international scene, they are going to have to pull together. That will entail strengthening intra-regional ties.

UNESCO has long been a proponent of South-South cooperation throughout the developing world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO's Regional Bureau for Science in Montevideo (Uruguay) has been involved in regional projects for technical cooperation for decades. UNESCO has also played a major role in creating regional scientific networks; the two most recent ones were launched in 1998: the network of research and development (R&D) and science programmes in the Caribbean (Cariscience) and the network of R&D for postgraduates in science in Central America Red-CienciA).

In December 2005, UNESCO and the Cuban Ministry of Science and Technology organized a regional conference on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development. The organizers deliberately departed from a business as usual approach. Rather than aiming for the adoption of a set of recommendations - the more usual outcome of conferences of this kind - they approved a series of projects for regional cooperation. These operational projects include such areas as disaster risk reduction, science education and science popularization.

Focus on the Caribbean

Read a summary of the current state of R&D in the countries of the Caribbean Common Market (Caricom) and a separate case study of Cuba, both published by UNESCO in October 2005 in its quarterly newsletter, A World of Science. It should be noted that the Caricom study is taken from a longer chapter in the UNESCO Science Report 2005.

Read also about the Action Plan for Caribbean Science adopted in May 2006.

Read a summary of the findings in the UNESCO Science Report 2005 concerning other regions:

Science is booming in Asia

Europe and the USA face a more competitive environment

Better prospects for Africa and the Arab States?

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