Dr Paul Vallet: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy podcast. I'm your host, Dr Paul Vallet, Associate Fellow with the GCSP Global Fellowship Initiative. For the next week, I will be talking with the subject matter experts to explain issues regarding peace, security and international cooperation. Thanks for tuning in once again. In following issues of international security and cooperation to GCSP shows a has a keen interest in diverse regions of the international community. And today we're focused our eye on Latin America from which several personalities and practitioners have contributed to our activities, both in training and reflection. Of course, being joined by such personality today is Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari, Co-founder of perfectible.io, who is speaking to us from Costa Rica. While today, he works as a narrative futurist and I'm sure we'll all be very interested in discovering what this new activity is like, keeping watch on current issues, and especially those that surround climate change on which he focused while an Executive in Residence at the GCSP in 2019. Alvaro worked for over 10 years for the Costa Rican trade and diplomatic service, rising in the ranks to where reached out of Ambassador with service respectively in Beijing, Tokyo, the OECD, and finally as the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the WTO in Geneva. So welcome to the podcast Alvaro. It's very nice to see you again.
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: Thank you, Paul, it's great to talk to you again and to see you again. It's unbelievable that it's been almost a year since we met last.
Dr Paul Vallet: Indeed. So of course, we're going to be keenly interested in seeing what your eye from your home country is like on several the events that have touched us all. So of course, my first question to you would be, of course, as a narrative futurist, but also in your identity as a Latin American, what are the principal human and environmental security challenges that you would identify as our priority concerns today?
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: The first thing I would say is that Latin America was not very well prepared for pandemic. And the most striking fact about that unpreparedness is that less than 50% of Latin American citizens have access to universal health care or to healthcare in any way. So, when you have such levels of widespread vulnerability, a pandemic can do much harm, let alone talk about the economic vulnerabilities that are part of the system as well. So, the impact of COVID-19 has probably pushed Latin America in developmental terms a couple of decades back. So, I would say that's definitely a challenge. But beyond COVID, I would say that Latin America has, ill preparedness for climate shocks for the climate crisis that we're in. And this is something that we are still very, very good on time in order to prepare better because Latin America possesses probably 40% of all of the Earth's freshwater, about 50% of all of the world's rain forests, sufficient arable land to feed the entire planet. So, it's easy to argue that Latin America could very well be the future of human life on Earth. But on top of that, challenge, slash opportunity, there is a severe security challenge that we've been facing for the last 40 years, which is drug trafficking. And it's only getting worse. It doesn't matter how you call it, how you finance it. Drug trafficking is the nuclear bomb that detonated in Latin America, and this is killing our youth. This is destroying our families and our communities. This is infiltrating our public institutions. This is creating perverse incentives for people to opt out of the formal legal system and start operating on the fringes beyond what's legal trafficking, essentially, a very toxic drug into a market that consumes it that's not even in Latin America. So, these are some of the struggles that I see. And maybe one last one if I could mention is that democracy has been struggling for long and it seems to be a permanently incomplete process for the region, we've had a lot of military dictatorships, we've had, obviously, ideological adventures that have caused a lot of harm and a lot of damage and the governance of democratic institutions remains as a big question mark for the entire region. And COVID-19 has revealed that in many cases, many countries are not really being governed at all. Some somebody even claimed that we are looking at some failed states in several cases. So yes, that would be I guess, my grim introduction.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, I mean, it does show that there is a, I think, ample room for the narrative futurist in you, and your fellows who think about these issues to reflect on his variety of experiences, both problematic. And, of course, also sometimes optimistic that Latin America has, in order to tackle these issues. So my next question to you would be whether, out of all of this reflection, what kind of role model and possible leadership do you see for Latin America, when it is tackling these challenges within global discussions of the kinds that you have had when you are representing your country in international organisations?
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: This is a very interesting question, because I think that Latin America has never seen itself or behaved for the matter as a uniform group of countries, let's say, as the European Union has behaved for a number of decades. We in Latin America don't even understand the potential we have, by having, I don't know, 20 countries that speak the same language, that being Spanish, and not being too distant to Portuguese in Brazil. So I would say that if we understood the potential we have of utilizing our joint languages that are very similar in terms of market opportunities in the digital economy, for example, just to name one application, we would be much stronger than we are right now. Now, if we if we extrapolate that potential into politics, or a global economy, or even culture, I think that there is a lot that Latin America could do to improve its condition, but also to lead the world in multiple areas. I would say, for example, that Latin America has all the potential to become a global leader, as a region, in nature-based solutions or nature-based socio-economic solutions. How can we bounce beyond from where we were before COVID, to a more prosperous place, for all forms of life, not only for human beings? So how do we produce well-being from the biosphere is an enormous potential that countries like Costa Rica have a track record to show to the rest of the region. I think that also Latin America could become very strong in, in social entrepreneurship initiatives. And this, this is the derivative from the challenge of governance. I would say that in many countries in Latin America today, what we are seeing is civil society initiatives that are bypassing government failure or public sector deficiencies. So, the opportunity of this being a fertile ground for civil society initiatives that are doing things better, more efficiently, cheaper, more impactful than government is actually encouraging. And then I would add another element, which would be that we should be able to at least start a conversation. That would be an ongoing conversation, towards reaching consensus about the future we want as Latin American nations and what kind of global role we would see ourselves playing. Probably this would be more likely achieved if we started discussions among regional blocs of countries because there are big differences between Caribbean nations, Central America, the Andean countries of South America, Mercosur itself, the Pacific Alliance, so there are blocks that are already established and having conversations between them trying to transcend ideology would probably be a good way to start. And last in the in this in this segment of leadership. I would say that Latin America is unaware of the enormous potential and pass from the very rich and diverse and numerous indigenous sculptures that are still living in our countries. And this has enormous potential in terms of how can we become inspired from the way these original nations have been thriving for millennia. And we’re facing challenges that make us wonder if the next 10 years are going to be too difficult to manage or too difficult to survive. We have millions of people here that have been living for more than 1,000 years in a very successful manner, being focusing on the future, respecting nature, and being inventive, imaginative, and entrepreneurial today. So that's the kind of leadership I would like to see for this region.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, that's, I mean, obviously, I think something that leads me to my next reflection, because listening to you elaborate on the these different possible roles and the reflections that you conduct on what your region can contribute, for itself and for the world. It makes me wonder if, of course, as part of your work as a diplomatic practitioner brought you to reflect on these issues, and now on your new career, as a consultant to most of the civil society, private sector, and also this role of yours as a narrative futurist, it made me wonder whether there is a particular worldview or a culture, in foresight, as we would call it, that you identify with people from Latin America, in particular?
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: This is very interesting that you asked this question. I lived abroad for 14 years. And in those 14 years, I lived in five different countries in four different continents. And when you are, when you are living abroad, you are experiencing many different differences from what you're used to. So, coming back to Costa Rica, which I only did over a year ago, has allowed me to realise all the opportunities there are to make incremental or even disruptive changes around here. But more importantly, one thing I've learned living abroad is that people tend to know their history very well. And this means that they accept where they come from. And that also means that they tend to know where they're going. And this is very important in terms of development, long term future, thinking, planning, implementation of decision making, but two thoughts come to mind, in particular. One is the fact that when I was living in Japan, I learned that Steve Jobs was inspired by the Japanese Zen philosophy, art and culture in order to create the iPhone. And Japanese people generally don't know this. And they actually don't find inspiration in their own cultural heritage, even though they know their history very well. So, I think that Latin America could be somehow similar in that regard. We are unaware of all the immense value that our cultural heritage has, and how could we become inspired by it? I think this is a very interesting challenge that obviously runs along the lines of what education should be like for our children and youth. And the second idea that comes to mind is a comparison with the Vietnamese culture. They've been victims to extreme forms of violence for over 1,000 years. But they have remained cohesive and determined and resilient, to bounce beyond violence and conflict. So, I wonder if Latin America could learn about that resilience about that grit that the Vietnamese people have in order to say, Well, maybe we are not to blame for our own mis happenings. But we are responsible for the prosperity that lies beyond and how do we manage to co-create it together? So yeah, a couple of thoughts in that line.
Dr Paul Vallet: It's fascinating as well, too, because, of course as you highlight, your reflections honed by your time abroad reminds us that we're here in Geneva. We do have quite vibrant community of people who represented the diversity of the of the Latin American continent over here too so I wonder whether they to use this kind of exposure to think about issues at home so my next question to you is well precisely about the this experience of homecoming as well too because I remember we used to talk about it when you were over here too but versus you already mentioned in the course of the discussion Costa Rica enjoys a fine reputation for its policies of sustainable eco-tourism and of course apart from the other damages that you've mentioned in relation to the pandemic i was wondering how much does the reduction of international travel damage that sector and has it impeded its development or led to any kind of questioning of continuing with that as you rebuild?
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: Paul, just to clarify from something I said before in case it's confusing Costa Rica actually has 100% universal health care coverage. Yes, I think this is important to mention because that makes it a very different country within Latin America. Nevertheless tourism was probably the number one industry that employed most people before COVID nearly 40% of our workforce was directly or indirectly related to the tourism industry and a year ago it came to a sudden stop completely so this was extremely impactful for thousands of families that lived out of tourism. Now when we reopened our borders six months ago in October the tourism influx that started coming back was about 20% of what it used to be in the last high season, we are in high season right now, high tourism season right now and we are only seeing like 20% of the tourists that used to come but the ones that are coming are staying a lot longer than there than they used to before COVID tourists would come in average for nine days to Costa Rica but now you see some that are coming and staying for two months or even more as long as their visas allow them to stay and this is probably one of the ways to explain is that we're seeing the beginnings of what we could call the post-tourism era or the digital nomad era of tourists that are not really full time travellers but they come here and they work during their working hours and when they have spare time they go and enjoy the beach, the forest, the mountain and this is very interesting because if you ask the car rental services for example they are going to tell you that they've never had such a great tourist season ever, even though we're receiving only 20% of the tourists that used to come so if this is true and this hypothesis proves correct that we are seeing the beginning of digital nomads coming to Costa Rica then our biggest challenge is to offer connectivity infrastructure which are the highways for the digital economy. If you're going to come to Costa Rica for three months and you are an artificial intelligence programmer or you work with virtual reality or you operate in the cloud with cyber security for example you're going to need very good internet and that is something that we are still lagging a bit behind so this is something that we need to improve as soon as possible in order to get things going, but overall I would say that what we are starting to see is very promising and I would even say an improvement to what it used to be before COVID.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well that's quite fascinating to hear you described as the conditions for an eventual bouncing back despite such a such a challenge and as you say if you have the potential to reflect on these lessons and to act early enough on them that's certainly a plus, so maybe of course they will conclude our discussion my last question would be to the narrative futurist in you can you go on giving us some notes of optimism after such a tough year?
Mr Alvaro Cedeno Molinari: That's very interesting actually because I think COVID made of 2020 a year of revelations and the revelations that I initially saw were of all the converging crisis that we had as a global community and I name them, it's eight of them. We had a sanitary crisis, combined with an economic crisis, combined with a climate crisis, with biodiversity crisis, with energy, with politics and in politics I mean, the ability to negotiate and forge political agreements, then a crisis of vision, we don't know where we're going as a humanity. And finally, a crisis of narrative. We are, for, I don't know, 60,000 years, humanity made progress, by being able to imagine a future that did not exist and being able to persuade others to follow that imaginative future. And we've made enormous success following this, this way of being. But lately, we don't have that, especially not as a global community. So, the opportunity is ripe, I would say, to figure out ways in which each one of these eight crises can be transformed, considering the others. So for the first time, we are not looking through silos, we are looking at the bigger forest and saying, okay, well, if we want to fix the sanitary crisis, we're also going to figure out a way to deal with biodiversity loss. And then perhaps what that requires is a cohesive narrative that is going to allow us to move that together in multiple fronts. So I mentioned earlier nature-based solutions that has a lot to do with climate and the economy, obviously, the political challenges are there, and how can we re- learn to negotiate because I think that's a skill that we've lost somehow. I also think that what we are seeing right now is a scenario of converging opportunities. So, there are many lessons to be learned from all industries and sectors. And it may be that now that I mentioned silos, I wouldn't say that the ideal approach is that traditionally known “breaking the silos” mentality, I would say that silos are important, they contain a lot of expert analysis and data, I would say that what we need is a better communication between the silos so that it is more effective, and we can move together in a more in a more efficient manner. And then if I could say something that really awakens my sense of optimism is that the fourth industrial revolution is reaching maturity in the sense that everything that we can we already know that whatever, we can transform technologically, to utilize data to make further improvements to the human interaction with technology. If this fourth industrial revolution has reached its maturity, right now, we are about to enter the fifth Industrial Revolution, which is likely going to be hyper connectivity of internet, whether you call it 5G or whatever other technology that comes our way that is going to allow us to do many more operations online than the ones we are able to do today. But this is going to lead us into a sixth Industrial Revolution, which is the convergence of life and technology. And we are already seeing a little bit of that biotechnology has a lot of potential in that regard. To my understanding, technology is craving more and more information about how nature works, so that the technology can better imitate the way nature works in terms of being circular being regenerative, being sustainable. And this is going to require a lot more people being a lot closer attention to nature. So, biomimicry is actually being able to imitate nature. And this means that those communities like Costa Rica, that have very close proximity with enormous amounts of biological diversity, are going to have a chance to lead into that sixth Industrial Revolution. And that is actually why I refer to this as the sixth tropical revolution, because it could be hosted in the tropics, bringing together technology and investment from elsewhere, but utilising the biodiversity that we have locally.
Dr Paul Vallet That was absolutely fascinating. And really a very interesting note on which to end because this is all we're going to have for today's episode. So, I really want to thank you very much Alvaro Cedeno Molinari for joining us today has been a real joy to talk to you and I hope we'll have more occasions on these matters. For our listeners, please listen to us again next week get to hear the latest insights on international peace and security. Don't forget that you can subscribe to us on anchor FM on Apple iTunes. You can also follow us on Spotify and on SoundCloud. I'm Paul Vallet with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and until next time, bye for now.
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