Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU to tussle with Latin America's 'Pink Tide' at Lima summit

Tussles over biofuels, trade and even capitalism itself are likely to take centre stage in Lima, Peru on Friday, as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and some 60 heads of state from the EU and Latin America and the Carribean (LAC) descend on the Peruvian capital for the fifth EU-LAC summit.

Under the protection of some 85,000 soldiers and police who have set up the usual array of roadblocks, traffic detours and zones restricted to local citizens, the leaders are to rattle through what is an ambitious agenda.

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  • A mural of Morales, Chavez and Castro (Photo: alittlefishy)

Although the leaders will focus on two key issues – combating inequality and tackling climate change – poverty, social inclusion, sustainable development, energy and the environment in general are also set for discussion.

At the summit, the commission is to announce Euroclima, a €5 million fund for Latin American projects that tack climate change.

Additionally, the two camps are hoping to boost trade and increase economic co-operation. The EU would like to see some movement towards an agreement in the Doha round of world trade negotiations.

The Doha round has been stalled since 2001 largely due to the differing trade priorities of poor and wealthy nations.

However, the politicians will also likely end up discussing a range of off-agenda topics that have forced themselves onto the front pages in the last few weeks, such as food shortages and the miniature cold war between Colombia and Ecuador that has simmered away since the former bombed alleged encampments of Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) within Ecuador without Quito's permission in March.

Merkel, Hitler and Chavez

The discussions are expected to be quite fractious, as the largely liberalising perspective of the EU comes up against what can be fairly described as currently the most left-wing continent on the planet.

Ahead of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned other Latin American nations against the "left-wing populist" policies of Venezuela's perennially beret-adorned president, Hugo Chavez, who responded in typical bombastic fashion by comparing Ms Merkel to Adolf Hitler.

On Sunday (11 May), Mr Chavez criticised the objectives of the European Union in their dealings with Latin America and the Caribbean.

The EU "is coming here to help us. Where is their plan to help the poor? Ask the president of Haiti how much promises from Europe and the United States have done," he said, according to DPA, the German Press Agency.

In recent years, centre-left and socialist governments have been elected in all but a few nations across the region – the so-called Pink Tide.

Nonetheless, Latin American and Caribbean leaders are not all of one mind.

The more centre-left presidents Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michele Bachelet of Chile, and Peru's own Alan Garcia largely support the free market and the so-called Washington Consensus – policies of fiscal discipline, deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation – albeit with more of a social cushion than their centre-right counterparts would prefer.

Meanwhile, to their left, Evo Morales – Bolivia's first indigenous leader in 500 years, Mr Chavez and Ecuador's Rafael Correa are committed to building what they call "a socialism of the 21st century," and have instituted a range of policies that favour the poor of their countries, such as boosting health and literacy programmes and, more controversially, the nationalisation of key industries.

Fernando Lugo, a former Catholic bishop and adherent of liberation theology won Paraguay's presidency in April, adding to the continent's collection of progressives. Analysts expect Mr Lugo's policies, as with those of Argentina's Cristina Kirchner, to fall somewhere between that of Mr da Silva and Mr Chavez.

'Biofuels debate will be central'

The sides align themselves slightly differently however when it comes to the question of biofuels.

EU leaders last spring agreed that the EU should increase the use of biofuels in transport fuel to ten percent by 2020, up from a planned 5.75 percent target to be achieved by 2010.

But the European Union has come under repeated pressure from international institutions such as the World Bank and the UN World Food Programme, as well as environmental and development NGOs, to abandon its biofuels targets due to concerns that the controversial fuels contribute to global warming and food price rises.

As a result, the commission has touted as-yet undefined sustainability standards that it says will ensure the biofuels Europe uses are green.

Brazil, the world's leading producer of ethanol, while publicly supporting these sustainability criteria, is very worried that if standards are too strict, European markets will be closed off to them.

On the other hand, most of the other LAC countries have lined up against both Brazil and the EU's positions on biofuels, aghast at the site of Haiti's government falling in April as a result of food riots on the island nation.

Even Peru's moderate Mr Garcia complains that biofuel crop cultivation is pushing up the prices of staples such as corn, rice and wheat, and is planning to ask for a limit to biofuel production.

"I have no doubt that the theme of food will be central to the debates of the summit," Peru's foreign minister, Jose Garcia Belaunde, said last week.

As with many such international gatherings, an alternative "People's Summit," is currently being held all week in a working class Lima neighbourhood, with attendants from social, labour and indigenous groups.

"The Brussels Consensus is the new Washington Consensus, and has started a new period of neocolonialism," said Brid Brennan of the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, one of the organisers of the People's Summit.

However, unlike similar counter-summits elsewhere, this one will also be attended by a number of heads of state, notably Mr Chavez, Mr Morales, Mr Correa and the new president of Cyprus, Dimitris Christofias.

External relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, and development commissioner Louis Michel will join President Barroso at the EU-LAC summit.

The EU-LAC summit was preceded on Thursday (15 May) by the second EU-LAC Business Forum, bringing together business and political leaders, and will be followed on Saturday by separate summits between the EU and each of Mexico, Chile, the Andean Community and Central America.

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