Nearshore Americas

Latin America ‘Weak’ Infrastructure Starts to Get a Major Facelift


Peru, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Colombia drive forward with big projects

By Clayton Browne

Latin America has long been considered a laggard in terms of global infrastructure development, but that perception should be changing. Countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Peru, as well as Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, have all begun major long-term infrastructure projects ranging from roads to dams to telecommunications towers to airports. Infrastructure development in the areas of energy, transportation and telecommunications have seen the greatest recent growth, with estimates ranging as high as $450 billion, to be spent on infrastructure in the area between 2011 and 2015.

Up until 2009, Latin American infrastructure spending was on a rapid growth track and there were dozens of major projects planned in almost every country in the hemisphere. The global recession has put a little damper on the pace of the growth, and a number of projects have been delayed or revised, but overall the impact of the recession on infrastructure expenditures does not seem to have been as bad as feared. Several countries such as Brazil and Chile have just announced new projects and updated schedules for planned and ongoing projects in 2012 and beyond.

Public Sector vs Public-Private Initiatives

Large-scale private-public partnerships for infrastructure development have been rare in Latin America until relatively recently due to a combination of cultural and business factors. There is a deep suspicion of private involvement in large public infrastructure projects in many places in Central and South America due to the fact that graft and misappropriation of public funds has been endemic in many such projects in the past. And in some countries such as Venezuela, there is outright hostility toward private enterprises being involved at almost any level in government projects.

The other side of the coin is that historically many public sector infrastructure projects in Latin American countries have also been inefficient graft-plagued projects where a few politicians or their friends and family greatly enriched themselves at the public expense.

But all of this is changing as the 21st century gets under way, and many countries like Brazil, Chile, and Peru, as well as the US territory Puerto Rico, have crafted innovative new regulations to encourage public-private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructural development. A few have even created quasi-governmental agencies to encourage PPPs, such as the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority.

That said, there are still a good number of ongoing and planned Latin American infrastructure projects such as airports that are deemed to be of sovereign interest, and are being developed solely with public funds.

Energy Infrastructure Supplanting Telecom

The development of telecommunications infrastructure has been a high priority throughout Latin America since the late 1990s, and there were more projects and more money spent on telecommunications infrastructure in Lain American countries than any other category for almost a decade. The trend continued until 2009, when investment in telecommunications declined by 37% compared to 2008, and no major new projects were undertaken.

The energy sector has seen rapid growth in the last few years in many Latin American nations, with energy infrastructure investment jumping by 127% with 43 new projects from 2008 to 2009. Brazil has been especially active in the energy sector since 2008 with two new hydroelectric plants and half a dozen major electrical transmission-related projects.

Major Projects in Selected Countries


Brazil was one of the leading per capita infrastructure dollars to GDP spenders in the world in the 1970s and early 80s, but infrastructure expenditures dropped off significantly for the next decade or so after that. But Brazil has recently kicked off a massive campaign of new infrastructure projects of all types, dubbed the Growth Acceleration Plan. Many of these projects are being developed through the Brazilian National Development bank (BNDES), and BNDES estimates that Brazil will spend a minimum of $145 billion in the three-year period from 2010-2012. While the fact that Brazil is becoming the largest economic engine in Latin America is clearly behind most of the current surge in infrastructural development, a good bit of it is certainly related to the fact that Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Ongoing/Near-Future Infrastructure Projects

• Recently completed a three-year, $30 billion roads and highways improvement project.

• Almost 50 stadium, road, airport and train-related infrastructure projects slated to be finished on time for the 2014 World Cup.

• A high-speed train linking Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo due to be completed by the 2016 Olympics.


Colombia has taken great strides in both sociopolitical and infrastructural development in the last decade or so, but it was very much needed and a great deal that remains to be done. Colombia’s current National Development Plan estimates spending $17 billion between 2010-2014 to develop the highway and railroad system, with up to half of the money coming from private funds.

Ongoing/Near-Future Infrastructure Projects

• Nearing completion of the multi-year, three-phase Ruta del Sol, a major highway project designed to connect the interior of Colombia with the Pacific Coast.

• The Central Railroad System, a project linking the two regional hub cities of Honda and Chiriguana, is under construction.

• Development of a new program to encourage the investment of private capital in infrastructure investment projects that helps link up the various parties involved, including the headquarters of the Superintendent Notary and Registrar.


Peru began a major infrastructural development push in the late 90s and continues to make steady improvements in infrastructure in the first decade of the 21st century. In Fact, the 2010 Infrascope, an index created the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking countries by political, legal and economic policies encouraging infrastructural development, ranks Peru as the third best country in all of Latin America (behind Chile and Brazil).

Sign up for our Nearshore Americas newsletter:

Ongoing/Near-Future Infrastructure Projects

• Peru currently has over $8 billion in public infrastructure projects planned or in construction

• Several regional projects to develop areas selected in coordination with the petrochemical industry

• Long-term plan to develop the island of San Lorenzo, located 4 km off of the coast of Lima, into a “satellite city on the sea, with special areas for production or recreation with the latest technologies.”

Puerto Rico

The last couple of decades of the 20th century saw Puerto Rico make great strides to catching up to most of the rest of the U.S. in terms of public infrastructure in terms of electricity productions, roads, hospitals and so forth. However, the school system and low-income housing lagged behind and were the most pressing infrastructural needs of the island nation. Fortunately, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 provided a $7.2 billion stimulus funding to Puerto Rico.

According to José Basora, the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority, “The government decided to put most of the stimulus money to work in a variety of new infrastructure-related projects, and to date we have spent over 88% of the funds allotted.”

Ongoing/Near-Future Infrastructure Projects

• The Schools for the 21st Century Program has built or remodeled 103 schools throughout Puerto Rico for a total cost of $756 million. This program has improved the education facilities of over 45,000 students and 3500 teachers.

• Ongoing public and public-private weatherization and energy conservation programs that have resulted in major home or building energy-efficiency upgrades for over 15,000 homes of senior citizens and low-income families as well as 600 government and private buildings.

• PPP projects developed through the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority include a recent $120 million education and training initiative to which Intel contributed $12 million as seed money.


Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

Add comment