Demonstrators burn a Brazilian flag during a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro
Demonstrators burn a Brazilian flag during a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Rio de JaneiroReuters

News stories emanating from Latin America rarely frame the region's economy in a positive light.

This summer's excellent World Cup – while not eclipsed on the field – was against a backdrop of strikes and civil unrest in Brazil's major cities. Similarly, Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner and her government were forced to default on their debts for a second time in thirteen years.

The negative image that these high-profile stories create does not do justice to the economic transformation taking place in Latin America or the investment opportunities the region now offers to business.

As the economies of Brazil and Argentina have stumbled, other countries in the region have seized the opportunity to attract more inward investment. In the bustling Colombian city of Medellin this week, there is so much visible evidence of this transformation.

The recently announced merger between Millicom-owned telecommunications company Tigo and the publicly-owned provider UNE here will create a business with over $2bn in revenue and have over eight million customers.

It illustrates the growing confidence that investors are now placing in Latin America's consumer market. Having just joined Millicom after five years at Caribbean-focused telecom company Cable and Wireless, the opportunity to be part of a merger of this size highlights the scale of the economic transformation currently taking place in the region.

UNE is based in Medellin, the city once famous for drug trafficking and lawlessness. The city has undergone a transformation in recent years and was last year awarded the title of 'World's Most Innovative City' by the Wall Street Journal, demonstrating the changes that have taken place in Colombia and the wider trend towards privatisation and expanding investment opportunities.

Colombia's GDP grew by an impressive 6.4% in the first quarter and in 2014/2015, and the World Bank has forecast economic growth in Colombia at 4.6%. This figure contrasts significantly with the predicted stagnation of the economies in the continent's traditional powerhouses, Brazil and Argentina.

UK exports to Latin America continue to grow at a fast pace, and newer markets are no longer being restricted by their larger regional neighbours. As former foreign secretary William Hague said in a speech last year, 'my message to British business is simple: go and take advantage of what the region has to offer; invest, compete and make yourselves part of Latin America's rise'.

The UK is now the fourth largest investor in Colombia.

This is in large part due to the current Colombian government's ability to implement successful economic policies and bring security to the population. President Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated into office last Thursday for a second term, showing these reforms are popular with the people as well as business.

Rapid economic growth has fuelled the development of an emerging middle class. Today, almost a third of Latin American families now belong to the middle-classes, which has led to an increase in the demand for high-quality consumer goods and services.

The telecommunications and media sector in Latin America is set to continue growing at a rate of nearly three times the global average, boosted by these new consumers. The growth in services shows that the region is successfully diversifying its economy away from commodities.

By investing in private enterprises that improve the quality of the services provided to the burgeoning middle classes, the telecommunications industry constitutes part of an essential infrastructure transition that can enable Latin American economies to sustain their impressive rates of growth.

Tim Pennington is chief financial officer of Millicom, a telecommunications and media company operating across Africa and Latin America.