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Latin America Investment News on Viva Tropical

Poor and Crime-Ridden – But the Best Places to Make Money

Article Summary:

Central America is undergoing vast changes, ones that will make this region a place where New World readers can make money.

Photo Credit: Wikinut

Original Article Text From Money Week :

Violent, impoverished – and attracting billions

While you were relaxing this Sunday, two politicians were giving it their all on the last day of an incredibly tense presidential campaign in Honduras. It was the first time since civilian rule was established some 30 years ago that a new political party threatened to shake up the status quo.

The incumbent conservative president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, faced an unprecedented challenge from his left-wing opponent, Xiomara Castro.

For Castro, who would be the country’s first female leader if she won, this is about more than just politics. Her husband was ousted in a 2009 coup backed by Hernandez. It marked the end of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Honduras.

This election is Castro’s chance to exact revenge. It is also an opportunity for the troubled nation to move forward and undo the legacy of the 2009 coup. So far the result seems too close to call, but early voting returns indicate that it will be a tie.

A cynic may perhaps wonder why anyone would even want the job. As the second-poorest country in the Americas after Haiti, Honduras still struggles with the problems that many of its neighbours have left behind. It is one of the most violent places on earth, with 20 murders per day.

And organised crime has a tight grip on society, with tens of thousands of young people joining fearsome gangs known as maras. Huge inequality fuels further crime, and the powerful military exerts too much influence on the country’s politics. For all these reasons, the economy is still under-developed. It is still very dependent on banana and coffee exports, with some growth in textile manufacturing.

But despite all these problems, I think that the elections in Honduras are symbolic of the momentum in that nation. And the same could be said for its Central American neighbours. These countries are all undergoing changes that will make this region a place where New World readers can make money.

Location, Location, Location

Central America is made up of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama and is home to around 41 million people.

The largest nation is Guatemala with 14 million people, while the smallest is Belize with just 300,000 people. The rest have between three million and seven million people each. Meanwhile, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic often joins Central American regional initiatives or bodies.

One of the main things Central America has going for it is its strategic location. It is sandwiched between the northern and southern hemispheres and also provides the shortest link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The most obvious beneficiary of this so far has been Panama. Its canal earns about $2.5bn a year in direct fees and indirectly contributes 10% of GDP.

Since taking over control in 1999, Panama has worked to increase the benefits it gets from the canal. For example, it is currently in the middle of a $5bn project to widen the canal to allow larger ships to pass through it.

It has also encouraged logistical and transport firms to set up base in the country. This shrewd use of the country’s best asset, its location, has helped the economy grow by 10% a year – the fastest in Latin America.

Now there are signs that its neighbours are keen to do the same. Nicaragua has attracted $40bn of Chinese investment to build a rival canal. Like so many others, I’m sceptical about the business case for it. But if the Chinese decide to push ahead for strategic reasons, it would be a huge boost for the Nicaraguan economy.

Not wanting to miss out, Guatemala and Honduras are also investing in a ‘dry canal’ – ie, a trans-hemisphere freight railway. Again, this plan is based on not just transporting goods, but also on trying to leverage more benefits for the economy.

There will, therefore, be several export-processing zones and business parks along the route that will attempt to lure international firms to set up in the country.

Extending its physical links to the wider world isn’t the only thing going on in Central America. Through a series of free-trade agreements, it is also integrating into the world economy. Central American countries already have an agreement with the US, and this year they’ve added to it by signing a deal with the EU.

Once it comes into force, the EU will cut tariffs on 92% of Central American imports. If you combine the EU and US deals, Central American exporters now have easy access to more than one billion of the world’s wealthiest consumers.

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From Money Week

Latin America Investment News on Viva Tropical