TiL Worldwide

Latin America: where culture is big and crises are bigger

Reading time: 3 minutes

One would think that when Europeans crossed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago, they expected their newfound colonies to flourish into stable global powerhouses. While today North American ex-colonies certainly merit global powerhouse status, many countries below the Mexico-USA border are struggling with severely unstable sociopolitical climates. Bolivia’s president resigned, Chile has been struck by a massive wave of protests, Argentina is on the verge of economic crisis, Brazil is struggling with the aftermath of ridiculously large-scale corruption scandals, and let’s not even talk about Venezuela. Throughout this year every country in Latin America has probably made headlines at least once—and definitely not in the good way. Discussing the situation of every country would easily fill out three volumes of this magazine, so the focus here will be on what’s happening in a couple of countries, and on why you as a European (or a non-European enjoying life in this beautiful continent) should care.

Wine, steak, tango, and economic crisis are arguably the four hallmarks of modern Argentinian culture. Nevertheless, this large South American country used to be among the richest in the world, exporting significant quantities of meat and grains. Then, after the Great Depression sparked in Wall Street, Argentinian (and generally Latin American) trade severely declined. The government drastically inflated import tariffs and began controlling foreign currency exchange rates as a means to mitigate economic meltdown. These nationalist attempts, nevertheless, resulted futile and only managed to plunge Argentina deeper into recession. Decades of governmental mismanagement have plagued the country since, and juggling multiple economic crises has become the norm. Unsurprisingly, these past few months have seen Argentina on the verge of entering recession once again. In August the stock market, known as the Merval, collapsed by 48% (yes, you read that correctly) against the dollar and government lost about 3 billion dollars in two days. Foreign currency purchase restrictions have been imposed on firms and citizens. And, yes, while this country is thousands of kilometers away from beloved 10 Corso Como, enjoying the café’s filetto di manzo alla griglia might go further out of reach for those without deep pockets, considering Argentina is a significant exporter of foodstuff (particularly meat) to the EU. In fact, any hiccup in Argentina’s economy would lead to a reduction of meat accessibility in the Union, and if you’re not insane vegan, you should probably worry.

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Let’s talk about coffee, Italy’s favorite drink and society’s most acceptable form of addiction. Coffee originates in the tropics, and the world’s biggest producer is, obviously, Brazil. The largest exporter of coffee to Europe *shockingly* also happens to be Brazil. Considering the relevance of Brazilian imports into the old continent, it is a responsibility of European citizens to be aware of the country’s political climate. In 2014 the federal police force launched a corruption investigation named Operation Car Wash (Operação Lava Jato, in Portuguese) with the aim of dismantling a money laundering scheme involving over 2 billion US dollars. Brazil is by no means a country notable for its politicians’ integrity, but this corruption scandal escalated beyond anyone’s expectations. Odebrecht and Petrobras, two of the multiple firms involved in the laundering network, paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to politicians throughout Latin America in order to sign construction contracts. Eleven countries in the region have been or are currently involved in the ongoing investigation, making it the largest corruption scandal to ever plague Latin America. The ramifications of the scandal have produced detrimental effects throughout many facets of Brazil and the rest of the region, consequently impacting trade relations with Europe. Corruption threatens the consumption of Brazilian products in Europe by hindering the fair and efficient allocation of resources. In other words, if you enjoy sipping on an espresso (one probably brewed from Brazilian coffee beans) on your way to morning lectures, Latin American political instability affects you and staying informed will make you value that morning energy boost more at every sip.

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At last, perhaps most importantly, Latinos form significant communities throughout Europe and in places as close to us as Bocconi. Staying informed about the sociopolitical situation in the region is both a necessity for global citizenship and an act of respect towards our Latino peers and colleagues. The brief explanations of the current events in Argentina and Brazil are only a small glimpse into the complexity of this region’s sociopolitical climate and highlight something often forgotten: Latin American problems are global problems.

by Stefano D’Angelo Vizquerra

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