Bending the Linear toward the Circular
Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the LatAm Challenge
3 min read

Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the LatAm Challenge

The First of Two Parts About the World of Spanish Latin America
Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the LatAm Challenge

The Spanish language originates in the ashes of the Roman Empire, and today is the primary language of most of South and Central America, some of the Caribbean, Mexico, and about 10% of the United States. This constitutes what I call Spanish World, a rich, culturally deep place of which I have very little knowledge.

I remain a beginning-level Spanish speaker, and doubt my ability to improve significantly. This is not a problem per se in San Juan, as this piece of the United States features plenty of English, written and spoken. But my lack of fluency does inhibit my ability to understand Spanish World and all the nuance and depth to its people, culture, and society.

Puerto Rico as Launching Pad
Yet my ongoing work at Tau Global Research includes all of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas. I have an office in San Juan, Puerto Rico that gives me some real-world perspective of living and doing business in Spanish-inflected culture. San Juan not only provides easy connections to the mainland US but also to Panama City, Panama; Bogota, Colombia; and to Madrid, Spain. It functions as well as any place as a Latin American headquarters, at least for a small business such as mine.

We cover 27 Latin American countries in our research (out of 144 total for the world) – there are 18 Spanish-speaking countries among them. The leaders in terms of technological and socioeconomic dynamism are Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Chile. Among the larger countries in this group, Colombia emerges as a leader.

Where Does Mexico Fit In?
One eternal large issue in any discussion of Spanish World is whether Mexico should be viewed as a/the regional leader, or whether it constitutes a world apart from the rest of the region (and vice versa). Discussions I've had on this topic for the past 40 years with people leads me to believe the latter. Mexico has a distinct history and popular culture, and is geographically removed enough from the rest of the region as to be its own world.

To be sure, an element of Mexico's political leadership continues to strive for regional leadership. A recent meeting in Mexico City of an organization called (in English) the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (rendered as CELAC in its Spanish acronym) made waves as “Mexico has signaled that it wants a leadership role in Latin America after years of focusing almost exclusively on its bilateral relationship with the U.S.”

There was also talk of de-emphasizing the role of the Organization of American States (OAS), a long-existing NGO headquartered in Washington, DC that's viewed more as a booster for US policy than for pan-regional cooperation. CELAC, in contrast, does not include the US among its 32 members, is headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela, and for what it's worth, takes in non-Spanish countries in the region as well.

CELAC was once headed by the vitriolic Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is currently at odds with Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and is not an organization designed to be effective with optimizing regional relations with the United States.

A LatAm EU?
Mexico's current assertiveness within CELAC also embraces a reported vision to create a region “similar to the EU.” The Spanish World component of CELAC membership comprises 350 million people (compared to 450 million the EU) and a combined economy of $3.5 trillion (compared to $15 trillion for the EU).

Certainly the country should participate in regional discussions and initiatives; but I can't see the validity of locating a headquarters for all of Latin America in Mexico City, in the way companies do in, say, Paris for Europe or Singapore for Southeast Asia. It just doesn't feel right.

Some of the reason is geography. It's a 9-hour flight from Mexico City to Buenos Aires or Santiago, for example, compared to the 2-4 hours for Paris in Europe and Singapore in SE Asia. Mexico also has its own, very intense local issues, not the least of which is its unique, rocky relationship with the United States.

Historically, the US has been up to all sorts of nefarious business from San Juan to Santiago to Caracas and elsewhere, but even more so in Mexico. Its war with its southern neighbor in the 1830s set modern borders that remain a point of angry contention in Mexico, and the modern-day political football of immigration polarizes US politics, creates an unfortunate overlordish relationship with the two governments, and continually reveals tensions that simply must be resolved if Mexico and the US are ever to have relations that can be considered “normal.” NAFTA and its recent successor don't come close to achieving this.