Is This the Silicon Valley of Latin America?

Americans used to think of China as a place to do business, and Latin America as a place to vacation. More recently, our neighbors to the south are seen as the source of desperate migrants. That mind-set led us to the mess that we are in now. Today, the American economy is far too dependent on China for critical supplies, while imports from countries in our own hemisphere, aside from Canada and Mexico, are lagging behind, experts say. Our influence in our own neighborhood is waning.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I saw evidence of that in Costa Rica, a stable democracy that is vying to become the Silicon Valley of Latin America — with active support from the United States.

Costa Rica is crucial to the gargantuan U.S. effort to reduce dependence on microchips from China, which plays an outsize role in packaging and testing the tiny gadgets that run everything from smartphones to fighter jets. More than 40 percent of the chips the U.S. Department of Defense uses for weapons systems and infrastructure rely on Chinese suppliers. More than 90 percent of all advanced chips are produced in Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China.

Now, Costa Rica is positioning itself to become a major hub outside Asia for packaging and testing microchips. In the 1990s, Intel built a factory near San Jose to do just that. That opened the door to more factories and industries and, as a result, an increasingly tech-oriented work force. Today, Costa Rica’s biggest category of exports is no longer coffee or bananas but medical devices.

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

On a recent Thursday afternoon, in a hotel ballroom outside of the capital, San Jose, President Rodrigo Chaves touted tax incentives, regulatory reforms and a 99 percent-renewable-energy grid as he rolled out a national strategy to expand the industry. “Welcome to Costa Rica, a country where thou shall not face red tape,” he boomed.

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