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The Big Take

How China Beat Out the U.S. to Dominate South America

No province is too small or remote for Beijing’s careful attention.

View of Highway 52 from Lipan Pass in the Andes Mountains near Purmamarca in Jujuy province, Argentina.

View of Highway 52 from Lipan Pass in the Andes Mountains near Purmamarca in Jujuy province, Argentina.

Photographer: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images
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In the hinterland of Argentina, Mario Pizarro’s office looks like a shrine to China. There’s the framed photo of a Chinese peasant with Pizarro’s face superimposed beneath the conical farmer hat. There’s the blue-robed smiling Buddha statue. And there’s the model wind turbine from a Chinese company with an inscription in English and Mandarin: “Create Our Future Together.”

Pizarro, 62, is the energy secretary of Jujuy, a province high in the Andes that borders Bolivia and Chile. Overlooking a river, his office building is ordinary, shabby even, but the projects he and his colleagues oversee are anything but. And the one country that’s made them all possible is China.