Latin America and the Caribbean

Partnership and cooperation

The level of affinity between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean has increased over the centuries and has bridged the geographical distances. More than anything else, we are united by common values that provide fertile ground for partnership and cooperation. Societal changes, geopolitical developments and globalisation are incentives for Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean to further strengthen the ties between them and address global challenges together. In a world where the United States is increasingly inward-looking and China is intensifying its presence and influence, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean must stand shoulder to shoulder to defend multilateralism and their common interests. There is potential for cooperation in future-oriented  areas such as digitisation, science, technology and innovation, standardisation and the fight against climate change. This last theme is of utmost importance to the Caribbean states. In addition, closer people-to-people networks also help build solid bridges between both continents. Finally, the region also offers numerous economic and commercial opportunities. It is rich in raw materials and has the potential for economic growth. In recent years, the European Union (EU) has concluded cooperation and trade and investment agreements with several countries and blocs in the region.

Recent developments and perspectives

2019 was an eventful year for Latin America and the Caribbean. In several countries, elections brought a new president to power. In a number of cases, this change of power is likely to bring about to new policies with a scope and impact that are still difficult to grasp at this stage. Other countries have faced mass protests and unrest. Crises have followed one other at a steady pace, particularly in the last months of 2019. While the differences between the countries of the continent should not be overlooked, there are also a number of common challenges that provide an ideal breeding ground for deep discontent: huge social inequality, a growing middle class of which a significant part lives just above the poverty line but has strong political, social and economic aspirations; social media which influence citizens’ expectations and also facilitate the organisation of demonstrations, widespread corruption, violence, the presence of drug trafficking networks, economies that are insufficiently diversified, etc.

Will Latin America and the Caribbean face another year of turmoil? In the most optimistic scenario, the governments of the countries concerned will learn lessons from the events of 2019 and make efforts to combat polarisation in society in a more constructive way. This could also encourage countries to work towards genuine regional integration and cooperation to solve common problems together.

However, the outlook seems less positive. More than ever, countries such as Venezuela or Cuba have become pawns in the geopolitical chess game between the United States, Russia and China. Some leaders are clinging to power and do not hesitate to circumvent their national laws to do so or to violently crush any form of protest. Elsewhere, attempts are made - with ups and downs - to rebuild the country after 50 years of internal armed conflict. Some countries are facing serious economic difficulties and are struggling to recover from the crisis. Finally, there is no doubt that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Latin American and Caribbean economies will be very severe, as elsewhere in the world.

Bilateral relations Belgium

The Belgian diplomatic network in Latin America and the Caribbean currently comprises eight embassies (Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Havana, Kingston, Lima, Panama, Santiago) and two consulates general (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo). Some embassies have several countries in their jurisdiction.

The Communities and Regions are also represented in several countries.

Imports of goods from Latin America and the Caribbean amounted to EUR 5,882 million in 2019, i.e. 1.5% of Belgium’s total imports. Exports to Latin America and the Caribbean represented EUR 5,565 million in 2019, i.e. 1.4% of Belgium’s total exports (Source: Foreign Trade Agency).

Overall, bilateral relations with Latin America and Caribbean countries are excellent. Like Belgium, most countries in the region support multilateral and regional cooperation and defend the same fundamental values, such as respect for democracy and human rights, gender equality, promotion of fair free trade and fight against climate change. However, some countries do not respect the rule of law and democracy. These countries commit flagrant and repeated violations of fundamental rights and restrict civil and political rights. In order to maintain pressure on these regimes, Belgium regularly raises the situation in these countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council and joins other EU member states in deciding on targeted restrictive measures (ban on entering EU territory and freezing of assets), while sparing the population. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Belgium actively participates in debates concerning countries on the international agenda.

Relations between Belgium and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are multifaceted and developed at various levels (multilateral, federal, regional, community, provincial, municipal), depending on the competences of each. In addition to traditional economic, commercial and political links, there are also other forms of cooperation, such as academic, scientific and cultural cooperation, but also police, ports, customs cooperation, logistics, cinematographic and audiovisual productions, and cooperation in the field of security and defence.

Finally, our country has also established very close contacts with non-governmental actors such as NGOs working on, inter alia, poverty reduction, capacity building, support for policy development, good governance, etc. and universities, for example in the fields of scientific research and technological innovation, life sciences, aeronautics and space, as well as the environment.