Latin Love Affair; the Notion That Latin America Is a Technology Backwater Is Well out of Date. Indeed, It Courts Investors with More Vigor Than America Does

Article excerpt

Byline: Craig R. Barrett (Barrett is chairman of Intel.)

I make an annual trip to Argentina, but the last one was different. The highlight was a deal we announced with Alan Faena, the South American fashion designer. Faena is part of a group redeveloping downtown Buenos Aires--turning old granaries and warehouses into five-star hotels. He wants to use high tech to help bring art and humanity into his properties, and we are acting as consultants. It was interesting because I have never held a press conference with a fashion designer before. It also shows that Buenos Aires and Latin America are not at all technology backwaters.

That impression, still common in global markets, is out of date. Countries like Argentina see themselves as caught between a rock and a hard place. They aim to grow their economy by attracting foreign capital, but they see all the money pouring into manufacturing in Asia, and they know it's going to be tough for them to compete globally on that front. So they turn to the knowledge economy, with an eye to leveraging the talent coming out of their strong university systems. Argentina has clearly decided on this strategy, and we are deeply involved with them in everything from training teachers to introducing technology in the classroom. Argentina's software exports are still small, about $200 million a year, but that's just a beginning.

I have traveled to six or eight countries in Latin America in the last two years, meeting with business people, education leaders and government leaders, and I can tell you: they know they need to enter the knowledge economy, and are working hard to attract the necessary investment. Two years ago I gave a technology talk in Lima; 1,600 people came in the middle of the afternoon. We don't attract those kinds of crowds in the United States.

Not all Latin nations are equally clear on their goals. Uruguay and Brazil are bouncing back and forth between wanting manufacturing and software development. But they, too, show flashes of innovative potential. In Brazil, for example, during the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, banks had to deal with customers who were withdrawing money on a daily basis. So Brazilian banks moved earlier than American banks to automate and go online. …