Chile, Once Latin America's Economic Model, Now Overtaken by Brazil

By Llana, Sara Miller | The Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Chile, Once Latin America's Economic Model, Now Overtaken by Brazil

Llana, Sara Miller, The Christian Science Monitor

Conservative tycoon Sebastian Pinera won the second round of Chile's presidential election on Sunday in part due to voter faith that he can revive the economy. Meanwhile, Brazil's economy is booming.

For two decades, Chile was the "teacher's pet" of Latin America, the student who always brought home straight A's.

Economists gushed that the Andean country's commitment to free- market policies and democratic reform made it a model for the developing world. And as Chileans enjoyed the trappings of a sustained average growth rate of more than 5 percent per year, poverty plummeted from 40 percent to 13.7 percent. But in the past year, Chile's gold star has gone to its hulking neighbor to the east, Brazil.

The agricultural juggernaut just won its bid to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics; it discovered vast oil deposits that could turn it into a major oil exporter; it was one of the last countries to be pulled into the global economic crisis and one of the first to pull out.

To be sure, the so-called Chilean "miracle" that constructed the most solid economic foundation in Latin America still stands, and some of its slower growth today is merely a result of its own maturation. But Brazil is finally claiming new status in the region, and not just for its size.

"We always looked at Chile as something better than us," says Arthur Ituassu, a professor of international relations at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica in Rio de Janeiro. "There is a growing sense in Brazil that we are now the major actor in South America."

Promise finally fulfilled

This is not the first time that Brazil has been heralded as the world's rising star. In the late 1960s and early '70s, the country was growing at an average rate of 11 percent a year. But the oil shock of 1973 stifled that rise, and economic woes, conbined with political ones, characterized the 1980s and early '90s. While Chile was experiencing its "golden decade," Brazil struggled through its "lost" one.

Yet today, with more than a decade of stable institutions and sustained growth, Brazil is finally living up to its promise.

Foreign investment, for one, has poured in. Investors are drawn to everything from biofuels to soybeans. Between 1994 and 1998, Brazil attracted an average of $14 billion annually in foreign direct investment; in 2008 that figure skyrocketed to $45 billion, according to the United Nations' Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Santiago, Chile. By comparison, Chile brought in $16.7 billion in 2008.

Brazil's economy is vulnerable, especially as its currency, the real, has surged against the dollar, threatening exports. But inflation is under control, foreign reserves have been built up, and it has diversified its commodities trade.

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