Persistent political unrest has characterized nearly every South American country since the Spanish lost control in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Bolivia, the most unstable politically of all the nations, has suffered 190 coups in 156 years. The majority of presidents are elected by the military via a coup. The democratically elected presidents are ousted to save the country from the communists. An established oligarchy usually manages to maintain power and wealth.
Extremes of wealth and poverty are present in much of South America. The machismo tradition, a heritage from the Spanish, prevails and encourages men to be overly aggressive and courageous to demonstrate their masculinity.
With a few exceptions, much of the population suffers from malnutrition and poverty. A large part of the continent’s people live on the fringes of a money economy. Brazil, with the world’s tenth largest economy and some heavily industrialized areas, also encompasses large pockets of poverty. This has led some Brazilian economists to refer to their country as a Belgium inside an India.
Until after World War II the whole of Latin America had only a few first-class hotels. In an effort to be a good neighbor and to stimulate investment and commerce in South America, President Truman set about encouraging hotel construction in the capital cities of South America. Only Juan Trippe, president of Pan American Airways, took up the challenge. Intercontinental Hotels was organized as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pan Am. Hotels were built or management contracts were arranged in Caracas, Belem, Montevideo, Santiago, Bogota, Mexico City, and Havana. (At the time the only first-class hotel in Caracas was Avila, built by the Rockefellers.) Where possible, joint ventures with local investors were arranged. It was the beginning of a chain that by 1982 had hotels in leading cities of more than sixty countries. The Intercontinental Hotels, sold by Pan Am in 1982 to a British company, now number more than 90.
Most South American hotels today with a few exceptions like those on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro cater to the business traveler. Pleasure travelers into the continent are likely to travel as part of a package tour.
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