Winds of Change

Jane BusseyAround the hemisphere, one of the first reactions to the earthquake in Haiti was not just horror but concern about the safety of friends and family. At Latin Trade, we were glad to learn that Michel Chancy, a Cabinent member and 2006 Bravo Business Award Humanitarian of the Year winner, was well and took on a new responsibility as secretary of state in charge of distribution of food aid. We wish him well in his efforts to help in the rebuilding of his country.

In this issue, we look at the changing political environment in the Central American countries where voters went to the polls last year. Financial analysts routinely view a busy calendar of presidential elections in the region with interest and some concern. But one of the threads running through Latin America and the Caribbean today is the growing consensus around the importance of democracy (as opposed to military governments) and how regional governments react to the threat of military intervention.
There are more disputes about the economic model needed for progress. Despite the Bolivarian experience in Venezuela, a consensus on economics prevails in many nations. So a shift to the right is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Supermarket millionaire Ricardo Martinelli won the presidency of Panama last year against a long-ruling center-left party but no major economic policy adjustments are visible yet.

Nor is a shift to a leftist president necessarily as dramatic, as Lula demonstrated in Brazil. In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes – representing the party of former leftist guerrillas – won over ARENA, a right-wing party that has ruled the country for more than two decades. What is important, beyond ideology, are leaders who are able to confront and hopefully make headway against age-old problems of marginalization, exclusion and poverty that have long been drags on economic progress. New leaders like President Martinelli in Panama like to see themselves not just as free-market proponents but as leaders who can make a difference. Coming from the left, Funes is also trying to be an agent of success and not just change.

On the economic front, Latin Trade offers a look at the mergers and acquisitions in the region in 2009. While the number of deals fell by more than 25 percent because of the severe financial crisis, companies in the region were still active, particularly as the year advanced, seeking mergers within their countries and sometimes buying companies in the United States. The global driver for M&A sputtered during the crisis, but strong performances and high commodity earnings have created Latin American multinational companies that are now bidding to be part of the global business landscape.

Knowing how important travel is to our readers – one of the first things business or even leisure travelers do is trade stories on good and bad experiences with airlines, airports, hotels and restaurants – we want to remind readers to take our survey on the Best of Latin America. Just go to www.LatinTrade.com and click on the link on our homepage. Travel is an important part of business, even in tough times, and that is one of the reasons for our destinations pieces in each issue. (Read about the transformation of Medellin into an art and cultural, and not just business, center.) It is important to share vital places to see outside of the boardroom, the hotel room and the airplane cabin. So please participate in our survey and let us know if you have any tips or questions.

Jane Bussey
Editorial Director

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