Crisis, Latin-American Style

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

“Crisis,” to an English-speaker, means a short, sharp pain – politically or economically. The Cold War was terrible, but it was not a crisis; the Cuban Missile Crisis was, by contrasts, just that – a crisis.

To a Latin American, such as myself, however, the word “crisis” denotes what it generally considered to be a permanent state of affairs. Pessimism shrouds much of the region, which in turn becomes self-defeating: We’re in crisis, we’ve always been in crisis, we’ll always be in crisis.

It’s a vicious cycle, and one you will hear endless Latinos complaining about.

These days, Latin America is growing at an astounding pace. The so-called Third World is playing catch up, and seems set to join the First World. The question has to be asked: Is the era of permanent “crisis” over? Or will the cycle continue? And what does this mean for businesses wanting to enter the Latin American markets?

The answer, like so many things in life, is neither simple nor easy:

Yes. No. Probably. Maybe. We don’t know.

It is true that the past is no guarantee of future performance. There are those, for instance, who say that the United States has already seen its best days. That may or may not be true. The world is a dangerous place, and there is no safe haven from political or economic turmoil.

And some countries in Latin America have indeed left their chaotic past behind them – at least, for now. Chile, for instance, enjoys stable governance and a vibrant economy. So does Uruguay. Peru, Colombia and Brazil likewise are shaking off the past.

The Latinos reading this are shaking their heads. Yes, yes, I know, these countries are by no means perfect. But at some point you have to look at the glass half-full and say, “Look at all that we’ve accomplished!” Yes, there are problems that need fixing, but what country doesn’t have problems?

We are improving. Things really are getting better. That is what matters.

Some countries, anyway. Others are not so lucky. Argentina is a basket case. Venezuela even worse. The Drug War has since migrated from Colombia to Mexico. Much of Central America remains a war zone.

One thing we can say for certain: The future is what we make of it. And Latin America has a chance to pull itself up by its bootstraps and join the rest of the developed world. Highways, ports, bridges, hospitals, schools – we are building that future, and right now.

For businesses that develop and support infrastructure, there has never been a better time to enter Latin America. The enormous profits – not to mention incalculable social benefits – far outweight the latent risks.

The last ten years were China’s. The next ten years are Latin America’s.

What happens after that? Only time will tell.

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