The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean projected Thursday that the region would contract by 0.4 percent this year and recover slowly in 2016 with 0.2 percent growth.

In its preliminary annual report on the region's economies, ECLAC said this year's recession was mainly due to a complex external economic environment.

Venezuela and Brazil will contract most sharply - by 7.1 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively - while the Dominican Republic will grow at a clip of 6.6 percent, the region's fastest, the Santiago-based U.N. regional commission said.

The performance of the different sub-regions varies widely, with South America projected to contract by 1.6 percent due to a drop in commodity exports and Central America and the Caribbean showing greater dynamism, ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena said.

The best-performing South American country will be Bolivia, with 4.5 percent growth, followed by Colombia (3.1 percent), Paraguay (2.9 percent) and Peru (2.8 percent), the commission said.

Chile and Argentina will each grow 2 percent, while Uruguay and Ecuador will expand by 1.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, the report said.

The sub-region of Central America and Mexico (which also includes part of the Caribbean) will end 2015 with economic expansion of 2.9 percent, with the Dominican Republic projected to grow 6.6 percent, Panama 5.9 percent, and Nicaragua and Cuba 4 percent each.

ECLAC is forecasting 0.2 percent growth for the region as a whole in 2016, although South America is projected to remain in recession with a further contraction of 0.8 percent due in large part to Venezuela and Brazil, whose economies are expected to shrink by 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Bolivia (4.5 percent) is projected to post the most robust growth in 2016, followed by Peru (3.4 percent), Colombia (3 percent) and Paraguay (3 percent).

Chile will grow 2.1 percent next year, while Uruguay will expand by 1.5 percent, Argentina is projected to grow 0.8 percent and Ecuador is forecast to expand by just 0.3 percent, according to the report.

The Central America and Mexico zone is projected to expand by 3 percent as a whole in 2016, with Panama expected to lead the way with 6.2 percent growth.