Latin America is home to more than 600 million people and has considerable natural and human resources. However, investment in science and technology (S&T) lags far behind that in developed countries. This gap represents a barrier to the development of economies based on knowledge and hampers the region's ability to tackle environmental and social problems. This lack of investment is evident in the extreme case of Venezuela, where much of the science workforce has fled economic chaos, but also in every Latin American country, including science powers such as Brazil and Argentina, where federal budgets in science, technology and education have been drastically reduced in recent years. Investments in S&T foster cooperation, commerce and good will and enhance resilience in the face of environmental and social turmoil. Therefore, scientists must start to actively engage governments and encourage long-term spending in S&T to support the development of Latin American societies.