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Los principales retos de la protección social en Centroamérica

La protección social debe entenderse como el conjunto de políticas y programas que resguardan a los ciudadanos frente a diversas contingencias y procuran su bienestar en las diferentes etapas del ciclo de vida. Esta debe basarse en la realización, garantía y protección de los derechos económicos sociales y culturales de las personas, tales como educación y capacitación, salud y alimentación, vivienda y saneamiento, seguridad social, trabajo e ingresos.

En concreto, la protección social debe materializarse a lo largo de la vida de los ciudadanos, garantizándoles cotidianamente un nivel mínimo de bienestar, tomando en cuenta los riesgos propios de la edad, el territorio en el que se vive, el género y la actividad que se ejerce, entre otros. También debe ofrecer una respuesta contundente para eliminar prácticas políticas y económicas contrarias al desarrollo como la exclusión, el racismo, la pobreza o la desigualdad, y ante choques económicos o sociales que provocan coyunturalmente pérdidas de bienestar.

En los últimos treinta años, los enfoques sobre la protección social han pasado de miradas minimalistas ―basadas en la reducción de la cobertura pública― hacia visiones que propugnan la garantía de los derechos. De la focalización reduccionista, pasando por la privatización y la intervención mínima del Estado, hasta la necesidad de establecer un piso mínimo de protección social universal. Sin embargo, aunque el discurso sobre la protección social en Centroamérica ha cambiado, el diseño de los programas así como los presupuestos públicos destinados para este fin continúan siendo insuficientes para poder garantizar su acceso a toda la población.

Centroamérica: algunos indicadores fiscales relacionados con los sistemas de protección social

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Fuente: ICEFIcon base en estadísticas oficiales.

Entre 2007 y 2014, los Estados centroamericanos destinaron en promedio entre 4.7 y 5.2% del PIB a los programas de protección social. Sin embargo, El Salvador, Guatemala y Nicaragua, han registrado inversiones muy por debajo del promedio regional, si bien es cierto con una tendencia al aumento. En contraste, Honduras y Panamá, al final del período analizado mostraban una tendencia a la reducción de su presupuesto para protección social, mientras Costa Rica, con la mayor asignación en la región, presentaba una estabilización del gasto en torno al 8.5% del PIB. En términos per cápita, las inversiones públicas en protección social en Centroamérica han pasado de USD 186.6 anuales en 2007 a USD341.9 en 2014. En el último año analizado, Nicaragua registró la inversión per cápita anual más baja del Istmo con tan solo USD63.7, en contraste con los USD823.5 registrados en Costa Rica.

En cuanto a la composición del gasto en protección social para 2014, los programas relacionados con la edad avanzada (pensiones en general, contributivas o no) representaron entre el 43.7 (El Salvador) y el 91.1% (Nicaragua) del total. Le siguieron, en orden de importancia, los programas concernientes a la mitigación de la exclusión social (subsidios de precios y apoyo al consumo de alimentos) y aquellos vinculados a la protección de las familias (transferencias monetarias, apoyo a la asistencia escolar, prevención de la desnutrición). Por su parte, los Estados están financiando más del 90% de la protección social con ingresos propios. Ahora bien, en los últimos años, Costa Rica, El Salvador y Honduras han aumentado la utilización de deuda pública para financiar estos programas. Las donaciones continúan contrayéndose en toda la región, con excepción de El Salvador.

Sobre los resultados de la protección social, estudios de la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (Cepal), dan cuenta sobre la baja cobertura en los países Centroamericanos. En su estudio Sistemas de protección social en América Latina y el Caribe. Una perspectiva comparada, se advierte que El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras y Nicaragua tienen una brecha severa de bienestar, en contraste con las brechas modestas determinadas para Costa Rica y Panamá. Entre las características de los primeros se encuentran un mayor gasto privado y de bolsillo en salud, menor acceso a la seguridad social, mayor incidencia de trabajo infantil, baja cobertura escolar y altos niveles de pobreza y migración. En los países con brechas modestas, se reconoce todavía una insuficiente capacidad de los gobiernos para crear condiciones de igualdad de acceso a programas de protección social. Solamente las prestaciones básicas son universales, mientras algunos elementos del sistema continúan segmentados por la capacidad contributiva de los afiliados.

En el contexto de los recursos y resultados antes mencionados, la sociedad centroamericana y sus gobiernos deberán impulsar reformas estructurales a los sistemas de protección social actuales, principalmente en tres áreas. Primero, en el diseño: pasar de la visión caritativa de la protección social, a una basada en la garantía de derechos humanos. Esto requiere mejoras en la calidad y un plan de acción para la integración y universalización progresiva de los bienes y servicios públicos, basada en la priorización de sectores sociales. Segundo, la ejecución del gasto se debe vincular más con la planificación por resultados, lo que debe acompañarse rendición de cuentas sobre los impactos de la protección social en beneficiarios, en la comunidad, en la economía y en la sociedad. Tercero, aumentar las capacidades de financiamiento de la protección social, elevando los ingresos del Estado por medio de mejoras en la administración tributaria, eliminación de privilegios fiscales y aumentos de impuestos con un enfoque de justicia fiscal (progresividad horizontal y vertical).

Centroamérica y algunos países de América Latina y el Caribe: indicadores relacionados con la cobertura promedio de los sistemas de protección social

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Fuente: Icefi con información de CEPAL (2014). Sistemas de protección social en América Latina y el Caribe. Una perspectiva comparada. Serie Políticas sociales. Núm. 202.

Lograr un buen sistema de protección social es complejo, pues entran en juego múltiples variables económicas, políticas y sociales. Sin embargo, los réditos de una protección social exitosa se observan en mejoras del bienestar económico y social, en una mayor identidad colectiva respetuosa de las diferencias, así como en una mayor certidumbre sobre el futuro. En lo político, la legitimidad de los gobiernos aumenta al demostrar ser estos buenos administradores del poder público, conciliando los intereses particulares frente al beneficio social.

La política fiscal centroamericana puede y debe conseguir poner en marcha sistemas de protección social que constituyan una base democrática para ayudar a distribuir la riqueza y el bienestar al tiempo en que aseguran un crecimiento económico sostenido e incluyente.

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