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Latin America's continental contraction

The region has seen a decade of surging crude consumption come to a crashing halt. Refining woes mean imports are still on the rise

For most of the world, the economics of fuel demand are fairly straightforward. When oil prices fall, consumers take advantage and burn more of the stuff. As fuel prices fell in the US, drivers almost immediately started hopping back into gas-guzzling SUVs and rekindled their love of the great American road trip. Drivers across Europe, China and elsewhere have also taken advantage of cheaper pump prices, fueling strong global demand growth. In Latin America's commodity-dependent economies, though, that calculus is flipped on its head. Crashing prices for crude and other raw materials have inflicted economic pain across the region, hitting hard an emergent middle class that was behind a deca

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