I spent last week in Santiago, the capital city of the Republic of Chile. I have always been thrilled by the South American continent. For me, it presents a world of diversity and beauty. I have visited a few of the countries that make up South America and while I have not ventured beyond their capitals my experiences in these various cities have been wonderful and exciting.
The rich culture, people of diverse backgrounds, the mixture of indigenous persons and those of European ancestry all add up to places that appeal to me as a traveller and a visitor. I studied Spanish for CXC and although that was many years ago I get the opportunity in South America to catch up on some words and phrases I remember.
Copa Airlines’ direct flights between Barbados and Panama now present easier access to Central and South America. In the past, that journey was more tedious as Miami was probably the only option to avoid transiting in several places, but that meant going north to go south. Panama’s airport is indeed a hub and gateway to Latin America. Flights depart there daily to almost all capitals in this region and beyond. And Copa Airlines is expanding its services making destinations in the region even easier to reach.
Traditionally, many Barbadians look to the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe as places to visit and explore. I recommend that instead of going north try going south for a change. There are many lovely places to see and new things to experience and each country offers something different and unique. In some countries shopping is great with affordable prices and there is value for money. In other countries, there are natural and historic sites that are a must see. Interacting with the indigenous peoples and the several nations that have survived after centuries of Spanish conquest of Latin America also gives an insight into a rich legacy of the continent pre-Columbus.
This was my third visit to Santiago but during this trip I took time out to go up into the Andes. The Andes, running along South America’s western side, is among the world’s longest mountain ranges. Its varied terrain encompasses glaciers, volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forest. The mountains shelter pre-Columbian archaeological sites and wildlife including chinchillas and condors. From Venezuela in the north, the range passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Two hours out of Santiago is Embalse El Yeso, which I visited. El Yeso is a reservoir that was formed by the damming of the Yeso river, part of the Maipo river basin. The reservoir has a capacity of 250,000,000 metres and was completed in 1964. Surface elevation is 2,568 metres or around 8400 feet. It is breathtakingly beautiful and the drive up was stunning with glimpses of the Andes and several volcanoes that make up the landscape of Chile. I did a zip line, for the first time, across the river.
Santiago itself is a modern city with a blend of historic and new. There are buildings and universities that are hundreds of years old and newer structures several stories high. Santiago boasts the tallest building in South America. The Costanera Center Torre 2, better known as Gran Torre Santiago (Great Santiago Tower), and previously known as Torre Gran Costanera, is a 64-story tall skyscraper, the tallest in Latin America. It is the second-tallest building in the Southern hemisphere by highest architectural feature (behind Q1 in Australia) and by highest occupied floor (after Australia’s Eureka Tower).
I was invited to speak to a class at one of the oldest Catholic universities in Santiago which offered me an insight into the younger generation of Chileans at the university level. They were all fascinated to hear about Barbados and seemed to know about Rihanna. I noticed a diversity of backgrounds of the students.
Several persons I met in Chile are familiar with the Caribbean but usually just the Spanish-speaking countries. So Cuba and the Dominican Republic feature highly on their places to visit. Perhaps these places offer more affordable options but I believe there is a market in South America for persons who would consider Barbados as a place to visit. It is a continent that is worth exploring as a source market for tourists. I guess several attempts have been made in the past. With Copa Airlines servicing Barbados directly now perhaps that market offers more potential.
While the gap between rich and poor is still evident in Latin America, the economies of some these South American countries are doing well. An article on the website www.worldatlas.com describes these economies:
“The economy of the South American continent represents the economy of the 12 nations and three territories… housing a total population of about 410 million. Initially, after attaining independence, most South American nations used the Import Substitution economic policy. The policy was implemented from the 1930s to the 1980s… with the objective of growing domestic businesses which were at that time not competitive and on par with international industries. However, the policy led to a debt crisis in the continent and the countries fell farther behind the Western countries in economic development.
The real growth of the South American economies began in the 1990s when the countries adopted the Free-Market economy system which helped [them] overcome the debt crisis. At present, agriculture, mining, and forestry are the major South American industries.
Chile, the richest economy in South America in terms of GDP per capita, occupies a long and narrow strip of territory between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range in southern South America. Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina are [its] immediate neighbours. The country covers an area of about 756,096.3 square km. As of 2012, it has a population of 16,341,929.
Chile is one of the most prosperous and stable economies of the continent and the World Bank ranks [its economy] as a high-income [one]. It is the world’s 30th most competitive country. As of 2012, the largest economic sectors by GDP in Chile are mining, business and personal services, wholesale, retail trade, and manufacturing. Only 4.9 per cent of the GDP is contributed by the agricultural and allied sectors.”
Noteworthy as well is the fact that the 2018 G20 Summit will be held in December in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It will be the first-ever G20 summit to be hosted in South America.
Understanding and appreciating our Latin American neighbours can help provide new opportunities for our people to benefit. The thrust by the new Barbados Government to encourage Barbadians to learn a second language fits well into any moves to capture the South American market. Spanish is now widely spoken throughout the world. In fact, I was reminded by my good friend from Ecuador that Spanish is a global language and the world’s second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)