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April 13, 2016
In recent years, Latin America has quietly been succeeding and growing in global importance. Whereas Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America dominate the headlines; South America has started to make a name for itself on a global scale. Whilst the world has not been paying attention to this region, it has dramatically changed with the majority of transformations being for the better.
Whilst it seems that the rest of the world is having economic problems, under the radar the economies of Latin America have been flourishing. Once a region of hyperinflation and unstable economies, Latin America is now home to a stable financial situation. With a rise in the exportation of goods such as soy, copper as well as other natural resources and technology, the GDP of the region has grown substantially. Many of the countries within South America are starting to welcome globalisation, opening up their economies and searching for new ways to take advantage of the global marketplace. With competition growing between China and the United States for influence in the region, trading agreements have risen between Latin American countries and their previously hostile neighbour. The region has also become one of the most dynamic for new energy research and one of the largest holders of energy sources. From the hydro-dams and wind farms of Brazil and Mexico to the shale gas fields of Argentina, the region has the variety of natural resources needed to reshape the global energy market.
A region with a history polluted by dictators and corruption, Latin America has on the majority embraced democracy bringing with it expanded representation and therefore an increase in social inclusion. Freedom of speech has increased due to the rise in use and access to the internet. Although Argentina has had episodes of political repression in the past, it currently holds the record for being the country in the region with the highest population with residential access to the internet. With a dictatorship in place in Argentina just over thirty years ago, the population also has the second highest number of Facebook users behind Brazil. As a region on the whole, it has been quietly minding its own business by slowly developing the economy, politics and social aspects of Latin America.
With a move towards the sustainable development of the region, South America has been concentrating on its biggest issues such as the reduction of poverty, social and ethnic inequalities. In Chile, Argentina and Uruguay for example, such issues have moved towards being resolved with nearly all children under the age of 15 being in some form of educational system. Progress can also be seen with the rapid decrease in fertility rates that were some of the highest in the world with an average of nearly six children per woman in Latin America in the 20th Century. Today the fertility rate is now below the world average and has this trend looks to continue in the near future. More profound are the figures that show that since 1950, the average life expectancy in the region has increased by 23 years to be approximately 75 years. During this same period of time, infant mortality rates have plunged from 138 to 18 per 1,000 live births. Along with an improved political and economic situation, these changes have helped to transform the very nature of Latin American societies. Such changes can be seen with the growth of the middle class that now stands at almost a third of the total population with the World Bank classifying the majority of the Latin American countries and their populations as having upper middle incomes. With a reduction in the poverty rates from roughly two in five to one in four, Latin America has come along leaps and bounds in the last decade.
The region of Latin America does have areas in which this new found success can dramatically help South America and its population take the next step on the global stage. With an overall need for investment in education infrastructure and to an extent basic rule of law, these three areas can help the region to compete more successfully in a globalised world. It is also important that as a region of differing levels of development, the countries of South America help one another out with some countries leaping ahead whilst others have lagged. A region bursting with potential and with signs of immense improvements, it is time that the rest of the world stopped and took notice of this vibrant part of the world. The United States is looking to increase its exports as well as help the spread of democratic values whilst addressing global issues such as climate change. The powerhouse in the North can do no better than to look South towards its neighbours who have the resources and capabilities to make a worldwide impact.