I just got back from a two-week trip to Brazil and I was impressed with what’s happening there. We all know Brazil has been the motivating force in Latin America for a while. It’s a rags-to-riches story and its energy has been so contagious that it has got the neighbouring countries going; in 2011, the region’s economy grew at an average of almost 5 per cent. It’s a timely moment to be in Latin America.
Last year, while European countries were calling meetings to discuss the sinking and bailout of some of the members in the union and the US was still feeling the ripples of a weakened economy, it was all celebrations south of the border in the Latin American world. Countries like Panama’s and Argentina’s economies grew more than 8 per cent, attracting envious looks from the world’s power players.
For centuries we – I’m Colombian, part of the Latino community – were ridiculed by more developed countries. They said we only dedicated our time to football, food and fun. And it’s exactly these things that have helped us grow. The world is eagerly counting down for the World Cup to kick off in Brazil, the Peruvians have established themselves in the culinary scene with their ceviches and pisco sours and our cultural events now have global significance – the Hay Festival in Cartagena is a clear example.
For a long time we hid behind the bigger countries, often told off and put aside as the unwanted, developing nations. But today the story is different. We’re now popular; we’re the place to be. We regained our pride and we did it our own way.
While the rest of the globe is busy patenting transgenic vegetables, we’re going back to our roots, harvesting and exporting exotic fruits like níspero, copoazú, caquí and guanábana, foodstuff that’s endemic to our region. And insects – like Mexico’s escamole ant eggs – will be the solution to feed the world’s growing 7 billion population. Insects need six times less feed than cattle to produce the same quantity of protein.
I know we can’t celebrate victory yet but the progress is clear and it has been key in reigniting our self-esteem. Yes, we’re lacking infrastructure but there’s good news – it’s coming. Colombia is planning to invest $100 bn (€79.5bn) in the next 10 years to improve its transportation network.
Yes, we need stronger institutions but with the example of other countries we’ll get there. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently announced the re-opening of the British Embassy in Paraguay (closed in 2005) and the establishment of diplomatic representation in Haiti for the first time since 1966. An Embassy in El Salvador (closed in 2003) will also reopen this year and a new British Consulate in Recife will follow. These are clear examples of a growing trust.
Latin America has been through hard times, we’ve suffered a lot and we still have a long way ahead but we’re much better than years ago. Our wounds are starting to heal and we’re proud to show our scars.
The day when we’re no longer regarded as developing nations will soon come and we will be setting the world’s pace. In the meantime I’ll book my flights and hotel for next year’s carnival in Rio.