This paper examines the extent to which poverty reduction schemes and targeting replaced the incomplete framework of social protection and universality in Latin America over the last decade, through the provision of monetary cash transfers rather than decommodified goods and services. Is this a turning point towards a new pattern of social policy in the region, characterized by basic standards, controls and selectivity for those who cannot afford market provision? What are the outcomes of such a turnaround with regard to poverty and inequality? Are there setbacks in the reduction of inequality, notably in terms of failing to overcome patterns of segregation and the social stigma of poverty? Will these new trends reinforce the case for reforming social protection pillars for the non-poor? Will the discourse of privatization gain a new momentum and reverse the counter-reforms in favor of integrated public systems? The first section of this paper provides the conceptual background to understand why social protection systems and poverty reduction strategies differ, highlighting the role of the various components of social protection and their arguments in economic terms and for purposes of equity and social justice. Likewise, two distinct paradigms will be confronted: on the one hand, the social risk management strategy (Holzmann and Jørgensen 2000), and, on the other, universal social protection systems as they were gradually fashioned during the golden years of the 20th century in Western countries. The second section scrutinizes the profile of the public provision of welfare in some Latin American countries, through an overview of social spending, presenting the main features of conditional cash transfer programs in Latin America and other contributory schemes that have been reshaped as of late. The last section draws lessons from the experiment of the Bolsa Família Program in Brazil to discuss the effectiveness and the limits of conditional cash transfers on poverty reduction and inequality. Finally, the concluding section calls attention to the risks of developing social protection schemes mainly on the grounds of the provision of cash benefits – a pro-market strategy – if the goal is to tackle poverty and inequality in the long run, promoting social cohesion such an uneven region.