Crossing the Andes (series)
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Half of Latin American countries number among the top economies in the world to do business in, and for many the continent is an investor’s paradise. Why should we keep an eye on Latin America, and which changes are taking place there right now?
As the backbone of South America – some 7000 kilometres long and passing through seven countries – the Andes mountain range is a good place to ask that question.
You’ll find Chilean capitalism in the smog of Santiago, and will travel 30 years back in time through the clouds of remote Bolivian mountain villages. Latino’s are known as a politically engaged people. Always fighting, but with a smile. Strong, but not tough as nails. The history of this continent is one of ups and downs. Sometimes there’s a glimmer of hope, then everything seems to fall apart again. Is the continent crawling, walking or about to fall down again?
Stef Biemans’ journey starts in Tierra del Fuego and ends in Colombia. Along the way, he searches out small stories about big issues, which illuminate contemporary South America.
Stef Biemans travels the ridge of the Andes and wonders how South Americans are doing in Potosí, the highest city in the world, and once one of its richest, but also one where life can be short.
In the mining town of Potosí, capitalism was born, as it were. Here, the first coin was struck using silver from the mine of the ‘rich mountain’, which is still in use. So much silver has been extracted from this imposing mountain, you could use it to build a bridge to Spain. But you could also build a bridge out of the bones of dead miners and slaves. On average, miners only make it to the age of 45.
In the Chilean capital of Santiago, Stef visits South America’s highest skyscraper. It was once built as a symbol of progress, but now the tower represents the dark side to that success story: record depression and suicide rates.
The highest tower in South America rises out of the Santiago smog, a symbol of the strong neoliberal economic system. But almost every month, someone jumps off of it. Nowhere else are depression rates as high as in this city of remarkable economic prosperity. In and around this skyscraper, Stef tries to find out where it all went wrong. What are the prerequisites for success and how do people survive in the smog of neoliberalism?
Stef travels to Argentina’s southernmost tip Ushuaia, and discovers an impressive electronics industry among the penguins. Since it’s become known that there are jobs to be had in Tierra del Fuego, the capital of Ushuaia draws countless South American fortune seekers. What is this growth doing to the mountains surrounding the town?
Terra del Fuego is the new migrant’s paradise of South America. Since word’s gotten out that on the southern tip of the continent you can easily find work in an Argentinian electronics plant, the city has boomed. The Argentinian government has declared the area a tax free zone and companies have flooded in with smartphone and television factorys.
Growth is so rapid here, that it feels like a threat to many people; what is the impact on the nature of the surrounding mountains and its biodiversity? In Tierra del Fuego, Charles Darwin studied man and animal, and discovered the principles of his theory of evolution. Can modern-day inhabitants adapt to these changes?
In Ecuador, Stef Biemans visits the valley of eternal life – where the high life expectancy of its inhabitants has astonished observers – and investigates its finite nature. What do spry centenarians in Ecuador right below the equator do in order to stay healthy, what provisions are there for them should they fall ill, and how do South Americans deal with their elderly?
The Vilcabamba valley in Ecuador is known for its healthy old people. The fit old man who interrupts his work in the field to firmly shake Stef Biemans’ hand shows an official proof of identity with a 1913 birthdate. A little bit later, he lets his hips do the talking when he’s dancing.
Others in the valley also dance, but it doesn’t mean they’re all happy. An 89-year-old woman says she’d like for it to be over. ‘God is keeping me alive. I’m waiting for my time to come.’ A voluntary ending to this earthly life is so unthinkable, Biemans is afraid to even broach the subject.
In this episode we look at the role of the mother-in-law, because Latino’s tend to talk about them rather a lot.
In Latin America, folk tales, songs, novels and soap operas are not complete without a distrustful mother-in-law. Why is that, he wonders? And has the role of the mother-in-law changed, now the economy is booming and whole families don’t have to live under one roof anymore? Or are mothers-in-law still as picky and meddlesome as Latino men would have us believe? Maybe they have good reason to be so, because men aren’t always gentle with their women.
In the final episode of the series, we journey down the Magdalena River, which originates in the Andes and ends in the Caribbean Sea.
This is the most hopeful period in Colombia’s history: the peace treaty has been signed and the country looks towards the future as new roads and bridges are being constructed. At the same time, the Magdalena River, also known as the mother of the country, still means a lot to inhabitants. What will progress destroy?