Latin America is in a mystery. But he still has strengths

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mein his mind eye as he writes, Bello can see the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean at Lima, the small fishing boats that cross the bay in search of corvin and chita, the pelicans skimming inches above the waves, the vultures circling on top of the cliff. He will also see the winding roads that go along the spine of the heart as they try to connect towns in the Andes, if landslides allow. He can feel the intense heat of the dark floor in the Amazon rainforest and the thick scrub of Brazil. sertao. He sees the flat emptiness of the Argentine pampas with their solitude from trees, and the high volcanoes of Mexico and Central America. Latin America has always been, first and foremost, about geography – amazing, rich, impossible and messy.

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The books that offer a single explanation – dependence, colonialism, Iberian culture or institutions – for the relative failure of Latin America are completely wrong. His problems stem from the interplay of all these factors and more. But geography, often ignored, is one, as explained by Sebastián Mazzuca, an Argentine political scientist, in a book published in 2021. He made a coalition against strong states that controls their land, forcing governments to reach agreements with local beneficiaries at the cost of rule. impartial law and administration.

Latin America’s rich endowment of natural resources has empowered shops and bodies, attracted greedy foreigners and given broth to the red meat of republics – a blame game about why people are poor if the earth is so rich. Another geographical feature, remoteness from the main centers of the world economy, has hurt trade and investment.

When this column began almost nine years ago, Latin America was developing. Poverty was falling steadily and so was income inequality (still wide). The lower middle classes were expanding and democracy seemed to be taking root.

But this progress was smoothed by an increase in goods. It quickly went down. In the last nine years the area has not seen any growth GDP the person Investment has fallen, productivity weakened and poverty has risen again. Discontent has arisen. Political instability is increasing as seemingly immovable dictators rule Venezuela, Nicaragua and now El Salvador. Organized crime has expanded its bloody tentacles, from Mexico to Chile and Paraguay.

Take a longer view, and everything is not so bleak. Your columnist began living in Latin America exactly 40 years ago and has done so for almost half that time since then. Over these decades the societies of the area have become more equal in some ways. The idea of ​​human rights is now not so widely shared anywhere else in the developing world.

Culturally Latin America is thriving. The world is moving its hips to Latin music. Latin American literature has moved into the mainstream, led by a group of young writers, many of them women. Latin American food, from Peru ceviche to Mexican tacoshas carved its way ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​between has been on menus around the word.

The category is more stable than major writers allow. Socially, that is largely dependent on the strength of family networks and the informal economy, although this is a drag on productivity. Macroeconomically the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s brought lasting benefits. Independent inflation-targeting central banks have proven their worth. The region has bounced back from the pandemic recession much faster than, for example, Europe, even if social divisions remain.

As always, the prospects keep growing, moving like the miracles on the salt flats of the Bolivian Altiplano. Latin America, so vulnerable to natural disasters, will be one of the main theaters in the battle against climate change. It is expected to be a key supplier for the green economy, with two-thirds of the world’s lithium reserves and 40% of those of copper. It is an abundant source of food and fresh water. Proximity to supply chains offers many opportunities. Some geographical barriers could now be overcome, digitally. And these beautiful landscapes create an identity and attract tourists.

Despite everything, Latin America is still a developing region where democracy is more widespread. Still missing are the virtues that geography prevented and that Andrés Bello stood for: the rule of law, better public education, openness and regional cooperation. That’s where the battle is. With a heavier heart than when he woke up, Bello puts his pen instead of ink.

Correction: (15 December 2022): An earlier version of this article misspelled Sebastián Mazzuca’s surname, sorry.

Read more from Bello, our Latin America columnist:
Recent leftist gains in Latin America may not be short-lived (December 1st)
Pablo Milanés, great musician and critic of the Cuban regime, has died (November 24)
The race to be Latin America’s next top development banker (November 10)

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