Are US expats contributing to inequality in Latin America?

Published:  26 Feb at 6 PM
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For decades, Latin America has been the favoured destination for millions of Americans looking for an enjoyable, inexpensive retirement or a hassle-free chance to start again.

Encouraged by online lifestyle marketers such as International Living working hand in hand with real estate developers and investors, US citizens are looking for a ready-made expat community closed off to the realities of the country in which it’s situated. Usually, the main spur for emigration is the cost of living, with American expats able to live comfortably on around a third of their US pensions at an average of $700, twice the earnings of around 33 per cent of their chosen country’s working population. Since the 2008 financial crash, some 10,000 are believed to have fled the USA’s diminishing returns for a comfortable retirement in cities such as Ecuador’s Cuenca.

The weather is kind to older bones, everything is far cheaper than at home and lifestyle apps help new arrivals adjust as well as servicing their online advertisers. Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico are also recipient countries for this expat exodus, far larger in numbers than the so-called ‘migrant caravans’ heading to the Mexico/US border with or without its promised and much derided ‘beautiful wall’. Unfortunately, there are losses as well as gains to be had from mass migration by tens of thousands of first-world refugees, even if they’re all participating in charity events or employing domestic servants. The fact they’re there at all invariably causes the prices of everything from food to real estate to rise, with increasing numbers of tourists and ‘snow-birds’ exacerbating the issue still further.

Even Cuenca’s UNESCO-designated old city is now a haunt aimed at the global middle classes, with its former street vendors and local shops now just a memory. Local SME owners in the lower-income bracket are now working two jobs to earn enough to maintain their families, and the local culture is fading fast. At first, the influx of ‘lifestyle migrants’ was welcomed by locals, who believed they would be able to provide more services and sell more food products and goods as a result, but nowadays it’s sadly true that lifestyle migration simply shines a spotlight on global inequality wherever it’s found.

At least some of those arriving from first world countries may well have wanted to immerse themselves in the local culture but weren’t able to for language or other reasons, leaving expat community leaders with no option but to create ‘little America’ for their compatriots, whatever damage this may cause to the area’s indigenous peoples.
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