For many months now, Latin Americans have been monitoring the constant drumbeat of crises in developed countries with bewilderment, irony and, yes, even a bit of schadenfreude. To them, Europe and the United States are displaying problems once associated with their region, which, not long ago, was a perennial champion in financial crises and bailouts.
“The mood on the streets of Paris is depressing, with people clearly worried about the future,” said Maria Cristina Terra, a Brazilian economist who moved to France four years ago and was back here this month to conduct research. “It’s a shock to all of us who saw Europe as solid and prosperous, but the contrast with Brazil is immense.”
In 2011, Latin America’s unemployment rate fell to a 21-year low of 6.8 percent, compared with 8.5 percent in the United States and nearly 10 percent in Europe. While economic growth has slowed in some countries, it is still booming in others. Panama, whose canal is choked to capacity, registered economic growth of 10.5 percent in the first nine months of 2011. Argentina’s economy expanded 9.3 percent in the third quarter.
Nowhere is the new mood more evident than in Brazil, which recently passed Britain as the world’s sixth-largest economy. Despite some recent economic weakness, Brazil’s unemployment rate is at a historic low of 4.7 percent. Veja, a leading newsmagazine, celebrated in a cover story this month the creation of new millionaires at a rate of 19 a day. By some measures, São Paulo’s financial sector is the envy of Wall Street: The market value of one bank, Itaú, now exceeds those of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley combined.
All of this is still hard for some people in Brazil to absorb. But these days, so many increasingly affluent Brazilians are traveling abroad that they see the contrasts with their own eyes.