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IMF concerned over post-COVID social unrest across Latin America - official

FILE PHOTO: Alejandro Werner, Director of the Western Hemisphere Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) speaks during the launch of the report "Economic Perspectives-Americas: Frustrated by Uncertainty", in Bogota, Colombia October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund is concerned that social unrest will make a comeback in “lots of countries” across Latin America once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, a top IMF official said on Thursday.

Economies across Latin America and the Caribbean are forecast to contract as a group by 8.1% this year, with an uneven 2021 bounce at just 3.6%, and most countries are not seen returning to pre-COVID output levels until 2023, the Fund said earlier on Thursday.

“Some of the determinants of social unease are going to worsen and that generates our concern for the region, for lots of countries in the region,” Alejandro Werner, the Fund’s director for the Western Hemisphere, said in an interview with Reuters.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we will have a level of economic activity and employment that will be much lower than before, a level of poverty and income distribution that is worse,” he added.

Protests that sometimes turned violent rocked countries including Chile, Ecuador and Colombia even before the pandemic hit, fueled by anger over inequality, corruption and government austerity policies.

Just this week, marches to mark the anniversary of the Chilean uprisings became violent in parts of Santiago. Chile will hold a referendum on Sunday on whether to scrap its dictatorship-era constitution, a key demand of the 2019 protests.

Werner said the referendum was evidence that Chile was channeling the social concerns through an institutional process.

He said what remained to be seen was if the vote leads to a result that will allow Chile “to continue growing as it has done so in the last three decades, but also achieve more social inclusion and accelerate the social inclusion aspects.”

Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Cooney

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