Literacy, Cocaine, and Viva Aerobus
Welcome to Latinometrics. We bring you Latin American insights and trends through concise, thought-provoking data visualizations.
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Literacy growth of LatAm’s biggest countries
The cocaine supply chain hit a new record
A Mexican airline that is outperforming everyone else
Make sure you check out the comment of the week at the bottom!
It’s estimated that over 800M people over 15 are illiterate, and out of the 1.6B who live impoverished—more than half cannot read. Around 35M Latin Americans over 15 cannot read or write.
However, those numbers are optimistic when viewed through the lens of history. The percentage of people who can read and write has skyrocketed in the last few centuries. In 1820, only 12% of the world's population could read and write. Today, that figure has reversed: less than 14% remain illiterate. Over the last 65 years, literacy rates have increased by 4% globally every 5 years on average. And in the last century, Latin America has made impressive gains in its quest for literacy.
In the 20th century, global literacy rates began to rise sharply once basic education became a priority for many countries. It's important to note the head start that the US had in the Americas — it wasn't until the 1990s that Latin America began to catch up with the 90%+ literacy rate that the US had since 1900! Much of this head start can be attributed to early laws prioritizing education for all humans in the 1600s.
Our chart shows that some LatAm nations have doubled and almost tripled their literacy rates during this period. Although there is still some educational progress to be made before every child in the region can read, it's clear that Latin America has made substantial progress toward becoming a region of literate citizens, bringing a new promising era of prosperity. And as both leaders and educators become more committed to education and improve educational strategies, this momentum will continue.
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Drug Trade 💉
The cocaine trade is, for obvious reasons, hard to measure, but most estimates agree it's worth at least $100B+ annually.
The Medellín Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar in the 80s, and the most notable in popular culture, started as a processing and distribution operation for cocaine, using raw coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia. At its height, its operation brought in an estimated $60M in weekly profits, most of which came from the US and Europe.
Almost 40 years later, the Medellin Cartel no longer exists, and Colombia has become the world's capital of raw coca plantations (in addition to the production part). What's even more staggering is that coca land yields 68% more cocaine than it did 20 years ago.
The country has large rural areas that are extremely hard to develop due to its geography — mainly the Andean mountains and the Amazon rainforest, which covers 35% of Colombia. These inhospitable regions have historically left power voids that foster criminal activity, such as paramilitary groups like FARC and drug cartels.
More recent factors help explain the sudden increase in plantations:
New criminal group formations
A heavy flow of Venezuelan migrants
A drop in crop interventions by authorities
Poor economic conditions due to the pandemic
Banning of aerial fumigation of coca crops due to health concerns in 2015
The dissolution of Plan Colombia, a US-funded program to aid in the combating of drug cartels
Drug cartels usually recruit poor farmers from these regions to grow coca plants for them, either with money or by force. The violence and death toll then extend to all parts of the supply chain — to Mexico, with murders (mostly related to drug cartels) surging each year, to the US, where drug overdoses and mass incarcerations have been rampant. It's no wonder many countries have enacted policies and publications continue to fight for the legalization of cocaine.
Airline Industry ✈️
Mexican airlines lost 51% of their 2019 passenger counts in 2020. But in the post-pandemic era, Low-Cost Carriers are flying high.
It's no secret that the airline industry encountered turbulence during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Previous to the crisis, there were questions regarding the profitability of complex legacy airlines in contrast to the simple and efficient operations of LCCs and ULCCs (Low-Cost Carriers and Ultra Low-Cost Carriers). Since they both began operations in 2006, newcomers Viva Aerobus and Volaris have flown high and managed to capture most of the new passenger volume in Mexico. Meanwhile, traditional airlines remained grounded with stagnant yearly passenger counts. Come 2021, this trend remained the same.
With an efficiency inspired by the Ryanair model, Viva Aerobus and Volaris (let's call them V&V) managed to weather the storm and capture the industry's lost market once safety regulations were rescinded. Meanwhile, other less profitable airlines have struggled to fly back to base. In 2017, V&V had a 3.2 and 4.3 CASK (Cost per Available Seat Kilometer in U.S. Cents), while Grupo AM had a 6.1 CASK. CASK is used to measure operational efficiencies for aircraft carriers.
V&V have also been more effective at filling their aircraft with passengers, making their flights more profitable. Beginning in 2017, they managed to keep their average passengers per flight flown ratio to approximately 156 in national flights, while Aeromexico managed a maximum average of 123 in 2018. Of course, Aeromexico's fleet includes various aircraft models, some smaller than V&V's standard Airbus 320 and 321s. But the wider array of models is also an added source of complexity and operational expenditure in maintenance, inventory, and personnel.
In absolute terms, Aeromexico had been the leader in passengers flown up to 2019, with 20.5 Million passengers flown. After a severe crash to 9.4 million in 2020, it lost that title to Volaris. So far this year (first 3 quarters), Volaris (22.6 M) remains the market leader, followed by Aeromexico (15.6M) and then Viva (14.9 M), threateningly rising to take second place soon.
P.S. We apologize for the jumbo-sized amount of airplane puns…
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That’s all for this week 👋
Comment of the week. We got lots of heat on Twitter for our Halloween vs. Dia de Muertos chart. Thinking back, we should've toned down the title. But how do you account for the massive drop in people googling "Dia de Muertos" in Mexico? Our critics have yet to explain that to us. Many also need to consider that what they see in their southern towns may be less prevalent in other states with higher US influence.
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