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Europe and Latin America Pledge Partnership Over Polarization

At a summit in Brussels, the EU and CELAC committed to deepening business and political ties.

Reviving an Old Cooperation Axis

Ahead of a summit between European Union and Latin American officials in Brussels this week, European officials hyped the event as a “relaunch” of a loose partnership that dates back decades but had withered since the mid-2010s. The EU and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held their last summit in 2015; soon after, Latin America became paralyzed by internal divisions while Europe prioritized managing debt and migration crises as well as Brexit.

But in recent years, both regions have grown increasingly concerned about being sidelined by the emerging economic cold war between the United States and China. Several progressive leaders keen to strengthen ties have also been voted into office, such as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who took up the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1.

European foreign-policy thinkers saw Latin America as a region that was mostly democratic, worried about getting short shrift in a bipolar world order, and rich with raw materials needed for the green energy transition—as well as oil and gas necessary for the pivot away from Russian fossil fuels. The time, they said, seemed right to join forces.

Still, it was clear that there would be some substantial points of tension between the two sides at the summit.

European leaders have pushed their Latin American counterparts to vocally condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine; while most have done so in United Nations General Assembly votes, they have not joined the Western sanctions campaign. And though Lula’s 2022 election raised hopes that a long-pending draft trade agreement between the EU and South American customs union Mercosur would finally be signed, it has been imperiled by new objections from both Europe and Brazil. Sánchez, for his part, may no longer be Spain’s prime minister after a snap election this weekend.

But European officials didn’t let these strains get in the way of making tangible overtures to CELAC countries. In Brussels, the EU announced that it aims to invest more than $50 billion in projects in Latin America by 2027 through its “Global Gateway” program—an effort that Erika Rodríguez Pinzón, a professor of the sociology of international relations at Complutense University of Madrid and a special advisor to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, described as “a European version of [China’s] Belt and Road Initiative, with important differences.”

The EU hopes to offer investments that have transparent contracts, meet high environmental and labor standards, and include technology transfers to Latin American countries, Pinzón told Foreign Policy. One hope, she added, is that Latin American countries will join EU efforts to preserve an open international economic and political system rather than allowing the world to become divided into Chinese- and U.S.-led blocs.

José Antonio Sanahuja, who directs a Spanish government foundation for public policy research and is another Borrel advisor, wrote this week in Le Grand Continent that close ties between Europe and Latin America in the 1970s “allowed for widening the margins of autonomy of both regions amid the bipolarity of that time.” Today’s outreach seeks the same.

“We want a multipolar world based on law and on the U.N. charter, on the principles of sovereignty,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted on Tuesday. Honduran President Xiomara Castro also defended a multipolar world in a speech at the event, calling for “exchange and cooperation for development.”

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that for him, the most important discussion at the summit was a side meeting on Venezuela’s political crisis that included Borrell, Macron, Lula, Argentine President Alberto Fernández, Colombian President Gustavo Petro, and envoys representing both Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro government and its opposition. (Maduro did not travel to Brussels.) Borrel and the presidents who participated in the side meeting issued a statement afterward calling for Venezuela to hold fair and transparent elections next year, adding that they should be accompanied by lifting sanctions against the country. It was not immediately clear whether the position was coordinated with the United States, which enforces most sanctions on Venezuela.

At the end of the summit, EU and CELAC countries reached a wide-ranging joint declaration that was endorsed by all parties except Nicaragua. They also pledged to meet every two years, with the next gathering scheduled for Bogotá in 2025.

The declaration’s signers vowed to cooperate on topics including education and digital governance and said that signatory countries expressed “deep concern on the ongoing war against Ukraine, which continues to cause immense human suffering and is exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” and supported “the need for a just and sustainable peace.”

The language on Ukraine was a major point of tension in the drafting process. While European countries pushed for a full-throated condemnation of Russia, Latin American leaders had a range of preferences for phrasing that were visible in their public comments on the summit floor.

There, Colombia’s Petro said that “undoubtedly there is an imperial or imperialist invasion of Ukraine, but what do you call what happened in Iraq?” He added, “Wouldn’t it be better to work on a general concept so no one can invade another country?” Honduras’s Castro limited her comments on the war to saying that it “should end.” Chilean President Gabriel Boric, on the other hand, gave an impassioned plea to fellow Latin American leaders for a stronger position against “an unacceptable war of imperialist aggression that violates international law.”

“I understand the joint declaration is blocked today because some people don’t want to say that the war is against Ukraine,” he added. “Dear colleagues, today it’s Ukraine, but tomorrow it could be any of us.”

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, Aug. 8 to Wednesday, Aug. 9: Lula hosts a summit for leaders of Amazon countries.

Sunday, Aug. 13: Argentina holds mandatory presidential primaries.

Sunday, Aug. 20: Ecuador holds the first round of its general election.

What We’re Following

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 16.Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 16.

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 16. SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Feminist foreign policy. This week’s joint EU-CELAC declaration committed to “fighting multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and gender based violence.” According to a 2023 paper by the U.S.-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Europe and Latin America lead the world in featuring feminist tenets in their foreign and development policies. The study evaluated 48 Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development members, prospective members, and partner countries.

Last month, Chile’s foreign ministry announced explicit plans to implement what it calls a feminist foreign policy. Officials from Chile’s foreign ministry said at the launch event that the country aimed to push for language on gender in international agreements; Undersecretary Gloria de la Fuente told Brian Winter of America’s Quarterly on July 11 that goals also include tapping more female ambassadors and boosting services for Chilean women experiencing domestic violence at the country’s consulates worldwide.

Mexico was the first Latin American country to enact a feminist foreign policy in 2019. In 2020, journalist Ann Deslandes wrote in Foreign Policy that Mexico’s ambitions abroad contrasted with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s dismissive comments about gender-based violence within Mexico as it worsened during the pandemic.

Still, the ICRW study found that Mexico’s foreign policy ranked third-most-feminist in the world, just behind Sweden and Norway. (Sweden was the first country in the world to announce a feminist foreign policy in 2014, but revoked it after a new government took power in late 2022.) As of December 2022, the report found, 13 of the countries studied were applying an explicitly feminist lens to their foreign or development policies.

Border conduct under scrutiny. U.S. President Joe Biden’s new policy that severely restricts the ability of most migrants to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border is working its way through the courts. This week, a federal judge heard arguments in a lawsuit against the law brought by immigrant rights groups.

As that legal drama plays out, the conduct of Texas’s state government and state troopers at the border has also fallen under scrutiny. The Texas state inspector general is probing a state trooper’s claims that superiors told troopers to push migrants back into the Rio Grande and withhold water from them. The emailed allegations were published by the Houston Chronicle last week. Meanwhile, Mexico sent a letter of diplomatic protest to the United States asserting that floating buoys the Texas government placed in the Rio Grande to deter migrants violate a treaty with Mexico over water governance.

Biden’s reduction of asylum rights at the border is part of a broader executive overhaul of U.S. migration policy that has created other legal options for some migrants to reach the United States on a large scale. Using a temporary authorization called parole, the Biden administration has allowed a combined 168,403 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to enter the United States in less than two years, CBS news reported this week.

A sudsy union. Television in Mexico and Colombia is living through a soapy cross-border exchange. Mexico’s biggest streaming service Vix and major Colombian channel RCN announced a content-sharing deal last week that will allow RCN content to be available on the streaming platform. (Vix was already available in several other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, including Colombia.)

The media services are also pooling resources to film their first jointly produced soap opera this month: The Substitute, about the interwoven lives of a domestic worker and a psychiatrist.

In Focus: The Financial Cost of Peru’s Instability

Members of Peru's anti-riot police stand guard as protesters opposing Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gather on the steps of the Cusco Cathedral during a nationwide demonstration against Boluarte in Cusco, Peru, on July 19.Members of Peru’s anti-riot police stand guard as protesters opposing Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gather on the steps of the Cusco Cathedral during a nationwide demonstration against Boluarte in Cusco, Peru, on July 19.

Members of Peru’s anti-riot police stand guard as protesters opposing Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gather on the steps of the Cusco Cathedral during a nationwide demonstration against Boluarte in Cusco, Peru, on July 19. IVAN FLORES/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In the past decade, Peru has been known for its unstable politics but stable economic growth. Presidential impeachments are relatively easy—and increasingly common—in the country, but leaders of all stripes have generally left government bodies such as the finance and planning ministries in the hands of free-market technocrats. Peru has had the fastest-growing major economy in Latin America this century, according to the World Bank.

But now, Peru’s instability appears to be catching up with its economic performance, Bloomberg’s Marcelo Rochabrun wrote this week. Government figures show that the country’s output shrank during the five months between January and May. If the trend continues in June—a datapoint that had not been announced as of Thursday afternoonPeru would technically be in a recession.

Peru’s biggest bout of recent instability came in a series of nationwide protests against former President Pedro Castillo’s December 2022 impeachment. They continued through March and included some blockades of roads to copper mines, stifling the output of Peru’s biggest export. Peru is the world’s second-biggest copper producer, so global prices rose as a result.

Amid the demonstrations, human rights groups criticized state security forces for what Human Rights Watch called likely extrajudicial killings. Overall, dozens of people were shot dead during the protests. Castillo’s successor and former vice president, Dina Boluarte, said she supported holding new elections late this year, but Peru’s Congress has voted down those plans.

The weather phenomenon El Niño has further hit Peru’s economy. Warm ocean water has stalled the harvesting of anchovies that are used to make fishmeal, another top export. The anchovies seek colder water in order to feed.

Peru’s finance minister said the economy would recover in the second half of the year. But just this week, demonstrators organized a new round of anti-government protests calling for Boluarte’s resignation.

At least two different demonstrators dressed as pink-clad versions of Boluarte on the streets of Peru on Wednesday, with the labels “dictator Barbie” and “genocide Barbie,” in honor of the movie released Thursday. Authorities said seven highways were blocked across the country. Although Boluarte has an approval rating around 12 percent, as of a June IEP poll, Congress has signaled it supports her.

Source : Foreign Policy