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South America's Middle Class Boosts Economies

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Juan Forero sent us this report.

JUAN FORERO: Just 600 miles from Antarctica is Ushuaia, the world's southernmost inhabited community. It's one of just two small Argentine cities on Tierra del Fuego, or land of fire - an island the size of Scotland. Once, this was little more than a remote outpost battered by gale-force winds. Now, Tierra del Fuego is a motor of manufacturing that not only reflects what's happening in Argentina, but what's happening across the continent.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

FORERO: In partnership with Japan's Sanyo, they make cell phones, microwaves and motherboards at this factory - the components put in place by modern chip mounters.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

FORERO: In weeks, Newsan will be making netbooks and notebooks, says Leonardo Francisco, who manages here and at three other plants.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING BELL)

LEONARDO FRANCISCO: Yes, there are a lot of demand and for this product because of the domestic economy is growing. The people in the middle class can buy this kind of product that sometimes ago it's no possible for this working class to have access to this kind of product.

FORERO: The owner of Newsan is Ruben Chernajovsky, grandson of Ukrainian immigrants. He's been a businessman a long time, and he says the last eight years of economic growth is something he's never seen.

RUBEN CHERNAJOVSKY: We have had some other periods good, but not as many years. Normally we had in the past crisis every four or five years. Now is stable.

FORERO: Augusto de la Torre is the World Bank's chief Latin America economist.

AUGUSTO DE LE TORRE: What's happening in Latin America is that the purchasing power of the base of the pyramid of the population is rising, and so you see that in the consumer of electronic, of appliances, in electronic goods, in things like TVs and radios and refrigerators and kitchens. You see that rising very fast.

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FORERO: Store manager Adrian Ricana(ph) says these days, it's always like this.

ADRIAN RICANA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says people now buy with installment plans, at no interest. Or they buy with a credit card, now cheaper than using cash. These kinds of payment options were unheard of in Argentina three or four years ago.

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FORERO: At the BGH factory, Marcelo Ringa(ph) helps make LCDs. He says he's benefited from the new-found prosperity in Argentina and across the continent.

MARCELO RINGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Juan Forero, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.