Having spent the last few weeks traversing South America, I consider it as a great opportunity. Not just being able to see the continent from the mighty majestic Andes to the Pacific Ocean, from Rio Del Plata to the arid regions, but the chance to live the local life is indeed a windfall. Chile is a country which reflects an unending optimism, the urge to be among the best in the region. And the evidence all points to this. The mineral market has been capitalized by the Government and the ease with which mining giants, BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Barrick can operate in this stable economy makes it a win- win situation for everyone. Never did I sense that unemployment is an issue, never did I sense people desiring to leave Chilean shores for better opportunities. It’s all there and prosperity obvious. And this is Santiago. Valparaiso, the significant harbor on the pacific did lose its economy at the turn of the previous century with the opening of the Panama Canal but has picked herself up and is looks well in tune with any port city in the world; turning herself not only into a la Gold Coast, but being a key contributor to the Chilean economy. I have to yet to explore the north and that’s exactly where the reddish tinges of Copper are all pervading.
Contrast to Chile is that large country across the border; Argentina. Flying into Buenos Aires and getting away from the airport is nothing short of my own experiences in Bombay (I will not call it Mumbai). The dirt, the chaos, the ugly buildings lining the main freeway and the obvious lack of new construction is something you cannot miss. The version of Argentina is at least two fold, the cab driver version is one of rosy optimism and while there are problems, the country is in a growth mode nonetheless. And then a few days later I ran into a Professor of Oceanography and the version from the erudite folks is diametrically opposite. The country, sitting on some of the best natural reserves will not make it any easier for companies to operate and the mindset and the policy of not expending the USD will continue to hurt them. If the seller of real estate keeps waiting on getting paid in USD and the buyer will not pay in any currency other than the Argentine Peso, it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that there is a development and growth impasse. The people have not been helped by the fact that the regimes they are under swing from one of extreme privatization to one that is socialist. When someone says they cannot buy even a decent bread toaster in Argentina, it certainly gives you a lot to ponder.
One thing is, like my earlier sojourns in South Africa, the people here come off as very friendly and the kind you will not mind having a beer with.