As economic uncertainty and worrying unemployment levels continue to plague Europe and much of the Western world, many have looked at the rest of the world to see where the superpowers of tomorrow will come from. China is often touted as the world’s next major economy, but other nations should not be overlooked. While the twentieth century saw much of Latin America struggle with poverty, war and political instability, the twenty-first century has seen several Latin American nations emerge as promising players globally. Vast natural resources, a young population, and increasing investment from multinationals means that much of Latin America is experiencing a boost economically. The drug trafficking and corruption stereotypes do still have significant truth to them certain areas, but the real currency today for many of these nations is oil. We’ve taken a look at the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for each of the countries in Latin America to see which 10 come out on top economically. Obviously the varying populations and different landmasses of each nation are significant factors in their productivity, but the rundown for each country should help put their respective GDPs in context.
10. Cuba: $72.3 Billion
The island nation of Cuba is known for several things: High quality cigars, a serious disagreement with the United States, and a system of government that- depending on who you talk to- is either revolutionary even in today’s terms, or a relic of a time gone by. After revolution in the country in the mid-twentieth century, Fidel Castro became the country’s president, leading a Communist regime that did not sit well with their American neighbours during Cold War times. Since 2008, however, Fidel’s younger brother Raúl has been in charge, bringing economic reforms to the country to promote free trade.
As a Communist state, Cubans receive protection in a way that many other Latin Americans do not: the State provides free healthcare, and education in the country is strong. On the other hand however, wages in the country remain miserably low and for some there’s a certain sense that the sheen has faded on this system of government. As other Latin American and Caribbean nations prosper, Cuba appears to have been somewhat left behind.
9. Ecuador: $84.04 Billion
Ecuador is a country that has done much to advance itself in recent years, and is often overlooked by her larger neighbouring nations, Peru and Colombia. But, like many South American nations, Ecuador has plenty of natural resources to make the most of and is reaping the rewards of the oil industry. At present, Ecuador has the third largest oil reserves in South America and it’s estimated that around a quarter of the government’s revenue comes from the oil industry. While it may seem like things are on the up in Ecuador, the country has come under international criticism in recent years. The border with Colombia is known as a potential danger zone for non-nationals and recently Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has been criticised by Human Rights Watch for his restriction of the media.
8. Puerto Rico: $101.5 Billion
Puerto Rico, a tributary to the U.S., is known to be the ‘most competitive economy’ in Latin America – despite the fact that they’ve been in a recession since the Global Economic Crisis beginning in 2006. Puerto Rico has a strong pharmaceuticals industry and has fingers in several other manufacturing pies including textiles and electronics. The country relies heavily on imported goods, due to its own lack of useful raw materials, and so the Unites States’ influence over their foreign trade is a significant factor in the shape of this Latin American economy. Puerto Rico benefits from tax-free imports to the U.S. and is subject to American minimum wage standards.
7. Peru: $203.8 Billion
Peru is a country that is not without its problems, but in many ways it is increasingly becoming one of the success stories of Latin America. The nation has a population of just under 30 million but an incredible landmass of 1,285,216 km². Like Ecuador, much of Peru’s GDP is down to their successful mining industries, with gold and copper the main minerals extracted. The extraction industry accounted for 11% of GDP as well as 64% of exports in 2011, showing just how important mining is to this nation. On top of that, Peru is home to some of Latin America’s most iconic historical locations, including the elusive Inca city of Machu Picchu and the mysterious Nazca line drawings which dot the Nazca Desert. Both are UNESCO world heritage sites. Given this rich cultural history, it will come as no surprise to hear that tourism is a strong industry for Peru, with the country receiving more than 2.7 million tourists in 2011.
6. Chile: $269.9 Billion
Chile is the only nation in South America that is classed by the World Bank as “developed,” so while it may not have the largest GDP of any nation, it is truly head and shoulders above all its neighbours. Over the past 20 years the country has had an average growth of 3.5% and was the first South American member of the OECD in 2010. And what’s spearheading this surge in growth? Mining. The extraction industry is big business throughout Latin America, but it’s is especially impressive in Chile: the nation is the world’s largest producer of copper, producing 5.5 million tonnes in 2010 alone. Inequality, a familiar Achilles’ heel of many Latin American nations, is still a problem but Chile’s social protection and empowerment schemes are still well in advance of most Latin American nations.
5. Colombia: $369.6 Billion
Colombia definitely gets a bad rap because of its affiliations with the drugs trade, but the country should not be dismissed because of its dark side: there is plenty of legitimate money to be made in Colombia. Mining- unsurprisingly- is a major player in terms of wealth, with coal, nickel and gold all extracted from the Colombian earth. Petroleum is still the main player here, however.
The country’s GDP has been growing substantially in recent years: in 2000 Colombia’s GDP was $127.5 billion; by 2005 it was $165 billion, but today it’s more than double that. Alongside the extraction business, the Colombian government are giving strong backing to the technology and startup industries in the country. Programmes for education and training as well as competitions are all a part of this. The dark side to Colombia does of course remain: the drugs trade is one aspect, but violent guerrilla groups targeting journalists, trade unionists and public officials are another area of ongoing worry for the nation.
4. Venezuela: $381.3 Billion
Colombia may be the nation that is most often stereotyped for its violent underbelly, but in many ways it is Venezuela that’s the real hot spot. The country has recently entered the international news for the violence that has erupted in the capital, but the reality is that this has been a long time in the making. Former President Hugo Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro was only narrowly elected in 2013, resulting in violent protests.
Shortages of everyday goods such as soap and toilet paper in the past year have also made the news, perhaps creating an image of Venezuela that’s at odds with its GDP. That is because it’s often forgotten that Venezuela has the second largest oil reserves in the world; in 2010 20% of their total GDP was down to their oil industry. However, the oil reserves are effectively controlled by the President’s office and transparency around the industry is poor.
3. Argentina: $475.5 Billion
An anomaly in many senses in the Latin American region, Argentina’s European heritage influences the country’s culture. Interestingly too, Argentina has managed to build up it’s $475 billion GDP without any major mining industry. The port capital of Buenos Aires is a wealthy and vital trade port for the south western hemisphere while agriculture, food processing and banking are major industries.
The country’s history is a patchy one however, with military juntas and dictatorships defining much of the last century: the Guerra Sucia – or Dirty War – is the darkest moment for Argentina, that to this day continues to haunt social and political life. Over 10,000 people disappeared during the Dirty War and the military dictatorship that followed. Argentina’s loss of the Falklands War ended the period of terror for the country. Today’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has re-ignited the disputed Falklands Territory discussion, which are officially owned by the United Kingdom. She is also the wife of former President, Néstor Kirchner.
2. Mexico: $1.178 Trillion
With over a trillion dollars to their GDP, you can see that Mexico-and of course our coveted number one spot- are well and truly ahead of the pack when it comes to money. With a population of 120.8 million however, that’s hardly surprising. Alongside this massive population, Mexico’s lush coastlines and superior infrastructure countries contribute to its wealth.
As we all know however, Mexico and the Gulf surrounding it are loaded with oil – or at least they were. Much of Mexico’s financial growth and development has been attributed to their natural resources but the view has been expressed that all good things must come to an end. There’s the risk that Mexico’s oil fields may begin to run dry.
Alongside this are the notorious problems around drug trafficking and cartels in the country which have seen violence explode into major cities and left politics and the police struggling to keep up. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has seen his ratings plummet as controversy continues with the cartels.
1. Brazil: $2.253 Trillion
With an astonishing 198.7 million people living in the country and a landmass of 8,515,767 km², Brazil is by far the largest country on our list, giving them a significant advantage when it comes to raising cash.
The country is often given as the example of the speed at which Latin American economies are developing and the changes the region has under gone in more recent times. As with many nations, natural resources are major business in Brazil: The country is second after Venezuela for oil exports in the region and additionally extracts, gas, iron ore and aluminium. Extracted materials now account for 30% of all exports from the country. On top of this, the fertile Amazon basin has controversially been providing timber and agricultural resources on a phenomenal level. Conservationists warn that continued deforestation will endanger plant and animal life as well as the indigenous tribes who still live deep within the Amazon itself.
At the other end of this spectrum of the population are the massive cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which drive urban growth. With the World Cup being held in Brazil later this year, as well as the Olympic Games in 2016, the country is on the rise, and the Olympics is set to boost Brazil’s GDP through the profitable tourism sector.