Probably nowhere else in the world do cities matter as much as in Latin America, highlighted by the statistical fact that four-fifths of Latin America’s 589 million people reside in cities. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, Latin America is more urbanized than any other region in the emerging markets world. The region boasts 198 cities harboring a minimum population of 200,000, generating 60 percent of all of Latin America’s GDP output. The urbanization trend is only moving forward, with the United Nations forecasting that by 2050, 90 percent of Latin America’s population will be living in cities or towns–an amazing phenomenon indeed, but with an unintended consequence: inadequate housing for the low-income population.
What will pave the road to Colombia’s future? The country has been experiencing what some are calling an oil bonanza, with its oil production having surged 80 percent in the past seven years. It is estimated that the country will be extracting upwards of 1.6 million barrels of crude oil per day by 2016.
Amongst the brethren of emerging markets, Brazil not too long ago presented the most excitement and opportunity. Everybody and everything wanted to be somewhat associated with Brazil’s rising star power—epitomized by being awarded in a short time span both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Excluding China, Brazil has received the most media attention and hype in the last few years, often touted as the next emerging market country that will soon transform into a bona fide superpower. Yet time has a funny way of determining things. Brazil, at the blink of an eye, is now confronting a different reality, a most despised and feared three-headed dragon: slow growth, a weak currency, and worst of all, inflation.
“With new access to virtual space and to its technologies, populations and groups all around the world will seize the moment, addressing long-held grievances or new concerns, with tenacity and conviction. Every society in the future will experience different forms of protest in which communication technology are used to organize, mobilize and engage”.
Social media has changed communications. Millions throughout the world inform, report, comment, engage, reply, connect, participate, debate, and access content. As internet guru Clay Shirky describes the new public sphere: “We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global, ubiquitous, and cheap. The audience can talk back. The really crazy change is here: the fact that people are no longer disconnected from each other, the complexity of the network is actually the square of the number of participants, meaning that the network, when it grows large, grows very, very large. And the choice we face is how can we make the best use of this media”. Governments are no exception—using social media as a political channel, a means of communicating directly with constituents. In Latin America, growth in connectivity and access to mobile technology account for increased public engagement.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) welcomed Francisco Santos Calderón, former Vice President of Colombia and candidate for the 2014 presidential elections, to discuss his views on international security. In his remarks Santos discussed the current and future relations between its neighbor Venezuela and the United States.
“I would like talk about ‘moral compass’, for that is the blanket of this speech,” Santos began “and I would like to focus on three things.”
After spending much of 2012 shuttling back and forth between Venezuela and Cuba for surgery, Hugo Chávez is dead. Cuba’s Communist Party has shielded Fidel Castro from the public eye since his retirement, his shaky speech threatening to undermine the fiery legacy they seek to preserve. Fidel’s brother and successor Raúl, at 81, faces limited time to groom the Party’s future leadership. On the surface, the continuation of Latin American socialism is in jeopardy. Yet one need look no further than its history of oil-financed social programs, bloated bureaucracies, rising corruption, and skyrocketing inflation to realize that Latin American socialism is deeply ingrained and churning along like on its rickety path, flaws and all. Facing the realities of the global economy, the lip-service these leaders paid to Simon Bolívar and Jose Martí will give way to selective foreign investment and oil money that serves little social purpose aside from generating the funds needed to keep the current parties in power.
Mexico is a country founded and built on differences. Maybe that's why "the other" seduces and irritates us. The crash between native Mesoamericans and the Spaniards, who were emerging from a long war against the Arabs, and who arrived to the Indies with expansionist zeal, is bittersweet. On one hand there is the eagerness to subjugate and crush that other world (as seen from either side) and, on the other hand, the desire to touch it, know it and observe it. And that is what both cultures did from their own traditions: the Spaniards, with their evangelist and colonialist zeal; the indigenous with their polytheism and roots to their fertile land. For the Spaniards it was a discovery based on prejudice. God's design had not included these new "beings" in His kingdom. For the indigenous people it was more like a revelation, a discovery with a surprise element. From both perspectives, the differences were what was attractive (as any encounter with "the other" always is). What impacted the future was the inequity. The indigenous people were treated as savages, their land was pillared, they were condemned to exile and to adapt to the vision that the other had of them. And that other, simultaneously exploring the land and discovering themselves in a different geography, were also trying to impose a foreign perspective in the landscape, virgin before their eyes, but ancient from the point of view of Mesoamerican history.
Historically, relations between Latin America and the United States have been complex, yet constantly evolving. During the 1960s, political changes and social movements challenged the structural basis of United States’ hegemony in the hemisphere. The election of Salvador Allende in Chile, the arrival of Peronism in Argentina, and the development of relations between nationalist governments of the time such as Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico became an obstacle for the United States.
Washington re-established its power in the 1970s by revoking any policy that interfered with U.S. interests in the region by supporting military figures. The United States needed to suppress every nationalist, socialist democratic and popular movement, over fears of the spread of Communism in its backyard. Dictatorships secured financial support through easy access to loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The economic support from United States for certain loyal groups brought great inequalities, unemployment, and poverty in the region.
Behind the curtains of the European Crisis, the U.S. sluggish economic recovery, and the geopolitical battles in the Middle East and North Korea, Latin America has quietly displayed economic resiliency and growth in the last few years. Some have dubbed this the ‘Latin American Decade’. Yet, if it is truly to be the long awaited Latin American golden era; certain challenges must be tackled to continue fanning the momentum the region has brought forth.
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