Spanish EU presidency faces fresh embarrassment over Latin America summit

05.05.10 @ 11:09

  1. By Leigh Phillips

Most of the countries of South America, including Argentina and economic powerhouse Brazil, are to boycott the upcoming EU-Latin America summit in Madrid in May to protest the European Union's invitation of the President of Honduras, who won his election on the back of a coup d'etat in June last year.

  • Spanish PM Zapatero (c) has invited Honduras to an EU summit, angering the rest of Latin America (Photo: Swedish presidency)

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the region's counterpart to the EU, the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, made the announcement on Tuesday (4 May).

"There is an unease shared by the majority, which will prevent many countries from Unasur attending this summit," the left-wing leader said. "Why, because we feel that we know and we act as if nothing had happened in Honduras."

Mr Correa spoke for all the countries of the continent apart from the right-wing governments of Colombia and Peru, the only two states in the region to recognise the election of Honduras' Porfirio Lobo.

Mr Lobo, a conservative, came to power following an election held by the coup plotters in which widespread human rights abuses against opponents of the coup regime were reported.

For decades, many Latin American governments were ruled by right-wing dictatorships backed by the United States. After democracy returned in the 1980s and 1990s, administrations had hoped that they had put the era of Western-supported military regimes behind them and are furious at Washington and Brussels for recognising the new Honduran administration.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "made it known [to his counterparts] that if Spain confirmed the invitation of Lobo, he would not attend," a Brazilian government minister told reporters. "We do not want to boycott the summit; We want Europe to think twice," said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "If Lobo is not invited, I'm sure most will come."

The move is a fresh embarrassment for Spain, currently holding the EU's six-month rotating presidency. US President Barack Obama announced in February that he would not be attending an EU-US summit in Madrid in May. It is understood that the White House feared the event would produce little more than a photo opportunity for the Spanish Prime Minister.

The European Union initially condemned the Honduran coup and refused to send election observers during the vote. However, Brussels subsequently said it was "broadly pleased" with the election.

Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, at the time said: "Spain will not recognize these elections, but not ignore them ... We are looking for a dialogue of national reconciliation in which there are new actors and a dialogue with [former] President Zelaya. The EU position is a united position."

Human rights groups slammed the process. Amnesty International reported a series of unlawful detentions, arrests and raids of opposition groups on the eve and day of the presidential elections, while domestic human rights defenders said that in the lead up to the vote, the government carried out intimidation, torture, illegal detentions and in some cases assassinations against people opposed to the coup regime.

Unasur at the time asked the EU not to recognise Mr Lobo's government.

But in December last year, Spain pushed ahead and invited the Honduras to the EU-Latin American summit, angering the South American leaders.