Top of the list of countries with the most glaring inequalities are nations that have laid claim to regional leadership, diplomatic pre-eminence or promises of catapulting their societies into the 21st century.
When documented evidence of abusive governance and human rights violations are added to the list of shortcomings the picture becomes bleaker, analysts said.
Some of the problems cited by campaigners and human rights activists were acknowledged in the first U.N. Development Program Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The UNDP report, "Acting On The Future: Breaking The Intergenerational Cycle of Inequality," said Latin America and the Caribbean ranked as the most unequal region in the world because populations in the area have the world's highest levels of differences in wealth and income.
The report called for social policies that tackle the problem of inequality in the Caribbean and Latin American region.
"This inequality is persistent, self-perpetuating in areas where social mobility is low and it poses an obstacle to progress in human development," UNDP said.
Ten of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in the region, yet it is possible to reduce inequality through the implementation of public policies that lift the region out of the inequality trap, UNDP said.
The policies must have an impact on people, address the set of constraints that perpetuate poverty and inequality and empower people to feel they are in charge of their development destinies, said the report.
"This report reaffirms the critical importance of the fight against poverty, while indicating that it is necessary to go further," said UNDP Regional Director Heraldo Munoz.
"Inequality is inherently an impediment to progress in the area of human development and efforts to reduce inequality must be explicitly mainstreamed in the public agenda," he said.
For UNDP "equality is instrumental in ensuring meaningful liberties; that is to say, in terms of helping all people to share in meaningful life options so that they can make autonomous choices," he added.
Women, indigenous populations and those of African descent are the groups hardest hit by inequality. Women in the region are paid less than men for the same work, they have a greater presence in the informal economy and they face a double workload, the UNDP report pointed out.
Compared to those of European descent, twice as many members of indigenous and African descended populations, on average, live on $1 per day, UNDP said.
"Inequality is a source of social vulnerability. For that reason, as the report shows, it's critical to advance knowledge of the factors explaining inequality in human development in Latin America and the Caribbean and its persistence from one generation to the next," said UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan.
"That would allow the proposal of a strong framework for development of targeted policies that drive a more equality-based development," she added.
Inequality in the region is 65 percent higher than in high-income countries, 36 percent more than East Asia and 18 percent higher than in sub-Sahara Africa.
"The country with the lowest incomes' inequality is Uruguay and Bolivia the highest," said the report.
Regarding access to services and infrastructure Peru presents the largest gap, 57 percent for drinking water, comparing the richest fifth with the poorest fifth. Countries with the smallest gaps are Chile, 5 percent; Argentina, 4 percent; Costa Rica, 4 percent; and Uruguay, 2 percent. More specifically regarding access to the power grid, in Peru the gap is 55 percent compared to Chile's 1 percent.
UNDP said inequality in Latin America isn't only deep but sustained since gaps have remained virtually unmoved since the 1970s.
Human rights abuses, an area not directly mentioned in the UNDP report, were cited in a series of recent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Local groups representing Indian citizens of Latin American countries, including regional leader Brazil, say their views are seldom aired in the media that are dominated by the more influential and wealthier citizens of European decent.
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