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BRI and railways in Latin America: how important are domestic politics?

Diego Leiva (School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia)

Asian Education and Development Studies

ISSN: 2046-3162

Article publication date: 5 May 2020

Issue publication date: 18 June 2021




China's experience of investing in Latin America in one of the main sectors included in the BRI architecture, railways, has faced significant challenges: only one of four Chinese potential railway projects in Latin America has materialised. The purpose of this paper is to explore these challenges and to provide an explanation focusing on the importance of the “domestic politics” factor.


The paper proposes a comparative study of four cases, developing a qualitative analysis based on an in-depth review of the literature and primary and secondary sources of information.


The findings suggest that domestic politics played a significant role in the outcomes of the Brazil–Peru Bi-Oceanic railway (changes in government), in Argentina's Belgrano Cargas modernisation project (multiple “domestic politics” factors, such as a presidential campaign), in Venezuela's failed Tinaco-Anaco high-speed train project (authoritarian turn/country's stability) and in Mexico's Querétaro-Ciudad de México high-speed train project (corruption and popular contestation). The paper suggests that one should not expect an easy or fast projection of the BRI in the region, at least in the short- and mid-term, because becoming familiar with the domestic politics of Latin American is a complex and gradual task.


The particular impact of the political risks related to domestic politics in the Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Latin America has not been extensively explored, especially in the railway sector. This paper intends to contribute to this literature gap by analysing four cases of Chinese investment in railways in Latin America, an area that has received little attention in the studies of the Chinese FDI in the region, and proposing an explanation of their outcomes focusing on the “domestic politics” factor.



I want to thank the organisers and participants of the workshop for this special issue, along with Steve Feng, Xu Yi‐chong and Mélodie Ruwet for their great revisions.


Leiva, D. (2021), "BRI and railways in Latin America: how important are domestic politics?", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 386-398.



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