The most depressing aspect of the situation is that neither social inequalities nor poverty diminished. If, in 1986, 43.3 per cent of Latin Americans were below the poverty line, in 1990 this percentage had rose to 46 per cent (some 196 million people). Hence, it can be seen in an even more conspicuous way than for developed countries, that positive effects of recovery are less pronounced than the negative ones of the previous recession (ALTIMIR, 1994, pp. 7-30). Although poverty percentages are higher in rural areas, in absolute figures poverty is now, and because of internal migrations it will be increasingly more so, mainly an urban phenomenon (more than 60 per cent of the poor in the region live in the cities).
The idea that economic development is not sustainable and democracy is hardly stable without a drastic poverty reduction, was formulated in 1987 by UNICEF under the slogan «Adjustment with a Human Face» and was soon afterwards adopted by other international organizations (CEPAL, 1990). At the beginning of the 90s, it became part of the World Bank's «philosophy» (WORLD BANK, 1990).
But programmes against poverty have been, in many cases, designed in the shape of focused and selective activities of limited duration, and implemented by vertical organizational structures with strong political control. Even worse, these strategies were marginal to, and perhaps even in contrast with, the reinforcement of already existing social services which despite their limitations and obvious deficiencies were based on the premises of universal coverage, integrality, participation and stability characteristic of Social Security systems (MESA LAGO, 1994, pp. 231-238).
In fact, the privatization of basic social services and the programmes against poverty were presented then, and continue to be so, as twin policies. Thus, by the end of the 80s, while most Latin Americans suffered an unprecedented impoverishment as a result of economic adjustment, a myriad of programmes proliferated, more or less focused, publicly financed and with varying support from NGOs, which were not always well coordinated.
An archetypal case is the often quoted Mexican «Solidarity Programme». Created at the end of 1989 by the Salinas Administration as the great social programme of the time, the ruling party (PRI) was just about to change its name for that of the programme, «The Solidarity Party». But a report on the Programme published at the end of 1993 (LAURELL and WENCES, 1994, pp. 381-401) concluded that, in spite of a few partial successes, the relative scarcity of resources, the orientation of certain sub-programmes and an inadequate regional distribution of funds, had not allowed to achieve in practice the proclaim purpose of the programme: to balance with social measures the consequences of the structural adjustment. The programme should, therefore, be more accurately defined as a political tool. At the beginning of 1994, its practical limits were demonstrated in Chiapas, one of the poorest Mexican states.
In 1988, using a different approach, those responsible for the programme known as «Desarrollo Integral Comunitario de Matanza», the most populated of the 19 councils which form Greater Buenos Aires (approximately 1,500,000 inhabitants, 250,000 living in «emergency settlements»), began their work conducting a survey on demand. They found that 33 per cent inhabitants from poverty-stricken districts considered organizational ability as the most important priority, followed by professional training, construction (or self-construction) of housing, and the existence of health centres. Only 2 per cent mentioned food distribution. Almost no mention was made of allocation of money subsidies. Therefore, the Programme was steered towards fostering the capabilities of neighbourhood leaders. More than 30 schools were built within three years. However, as its own advocates recognised, the programme could not provide a solution to the lack of basic facilities in the settlements. The conclusion is that this type of initiatives, created from a lower level, may be useful when there is a good understanding between people and administrators (preferably local administrators), but only to the extent that they contribute to a more efficient use of the few resources available (SUÁREZ, 1991).
In fact, the pessimism of the World Bank on the prospects of significantly reducing poverty, not before but even after the year 2000, may be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the limited likelihood of success of the economic and social strategies that have involved the maintenance of low levels of domestic consumption and mid-term perpetuation (with or without compensatory programs) of inequalities which are both politically and socially unacceptable (BRAND, 1994, pp. 567-578).
The General Director of the WHO has recently drawn attention to the risk of generalized acceptance of policies exclusively aimed at diminishing the impact of extreme poverty but without challenging its institutionalization (NCIH HEATHLINK, 1995, p. 2).