The Chilean president's motorcade of choice and the Central American nations' dry-canal race.
A Chilean president known for her hands-on style needs a reliable aircraft. Michelle Bachelet has quite a distance to cover, from dusty city squares in the northern Atacama Desert to the streets of southern Patagonia. Sometimes she’ll drop in on voters at a craggy outpost in the Andes mountains with the help of a Bell 412 helicopter, or hop on a four-engine turboprop Lockheed c-130 Hercules to visit scientists on an Antarctic base. “She looks for a direct relationship with citizens, a more direct democracy,” says political scientist Carlos Huneeus, who runs Chilean research centre Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea.
For longer flights she usually travels on the government’s larger Boeing 767-300er. In 2014, the first year of her second term in office, she visited over a dozen countries. That was taking it easy for Bachelet, who travelled to nearly 20 nations in year one of her first term in 2006.
Bachelet has to share her planes with the Air Force, which uses them for humanitarian missions, training and cargo. When the 767-300er is out of service for maintenance she relies on her back-up wings: the Boeing 737-300. Last year Bachelet and her entourage had to make pit stops in Guayaquil and Santo Domingo while on a Washington DC-to-Santiago trip in said plane; it can only fly four-and-a-half hours before refuelling. And the planes are controversial: the purchase of a Boeing 737-500 in 1997 prompted promises from an opposition candidate to sell the aircraft to pay for more jails if he was elected (he wasn’t).
A hectic air-travel schedule can take its toll but the former pediatrician has a trick up her sleeve to stay fresh faced: reserving a seat for her make-up artist.
The Hispanic population may be growing in the US – 54 million according to a 2013 census – but the number of Spanish speakers isn’t following the same curve; not in the southwest of the country, anyway. Devin Jenkins from the University of Colorado has found that in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico – areas with large Hispanic populations, mostly of Mexican descent – the use of Spanish is no longer growing.
The issue is the third generation: in some parts of Texas, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico fewer than one in three grandchildren of immigrants speak the language, preferring English instead.
With Panama’s $5.25bn (€4.7bn) canal expansion due to open in 2016 and with Nicaragua breaking ground on its own transoceanic canal, the rest of Central America is not about to be left behind. A race is underway between Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras to see who can be first to build a “dry canal” across the isthmus.
These dry canals are railways and motorways criss-crossing the region, anchored by large ports on either coast. Ships unload cargo at one end to be picked up by a second vessel at the other. The waterless routes range from Honduras’s Chinese-backed $20bn (€17.7bn) railway-port project to Costa Rica’s Canadian-led $7bn (€6.2bn) megaport-rail combo. Guatemala’s 372km-long effort, meanwhile, is expected to cost $10bn (€8.9bn).