From the end of extractivism to the forgiveness of slavery

From the end of extractivism to the forgiveness of slavery: Europe and Latin America reflect on their past

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The leaders of the European Union and Latin America this week hosted one of those reconciliations of old friends who distance themselves in difficult times and find each other again, even though it is necessary to extract and put on the table some truths from the past in order to be able to look to the future more easily. This is what happened at the meeting of the EU and the CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) countries, the first in eight years, which took place at a difficult time: with the fuel shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the growing Chinese influence in Latin America and the climate crisis that presents Latin America and its biodiversity as a land of solutions.

At the summit, held in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday, the 27 made it clear: in the face of this crisis entanglement, they need new trading partners, and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, one of the main export regions of raw materials and food and with huge reserves of key minerals such as lithium, are a natural and convenient option for Europe, the main investor in the region. “This is a new beginning for an old friendship. “Europe aspires to be Latin America’s partner of choice,” European Commission President German Ursula von der Leyen said at the economic forum held alongside Monday’s summit, where the EU pledged 45,000 million euros ($50,500 million) in funding plans through its Global Gateway tool, which it aims to mobilize public and private investment for sustainable development.

The senior European official stressed the shared culture and values ​​of the two continents, but also the importance both attach to the business. “We believe that what Europe has to offer to the region is different and meaningful. We have a common interest in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe realizing their full potential. We have a common interest in our industries growing, local value chains developing and more and more people moving up into the middle class. We don’t just want to do business together, we want to be successful together,” he added.

But von der Leyen’s declaration of intent did not exempt Europeans from hearing from Latin American leaders that they were not ready to simply go back to being a “quarry of natural resources,” as Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena defined it; who do not want to be a country doomed to extractivism forever. “We need a union that puts an end to the international division of labor that condemns Latin America and the Caribbean to supplying raw materials and a poorly paid and discriminated labor force,” President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said at the same event before an audience with dozens of representatives from European governments and companies with interests in the region.

Forgiveness and Reparation for Slavery

However, the demands on Europeans did not stop there. There was one more, mostly from Caribbean leaders, that didn’t get as much media coverage but was crucial when it comes to reviewing historical relationships: the final declaration asks forgiveness for slavery. “We deeply recognize the unimaginable suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children by the transatlantic slave trade,” reads the tenth point of the document, which was unanimously signed by the 59 heads of state and government from both sides of the Atlantic who attended the summit.

Ilan Goldfajn from the IDB, Lula, Usula von der Leyen, Pedro Sánchez and Sergio Díaz-GranadosIlan Goldfajn from IDB, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Úrsula Von der Leyer Pedro Sánchez, Sergio Díaz Granados from CAF at the opening of the Economic Forum parallel to the EU Celac Summit. OLIVIER MATTHYS (EFE)

In line with the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, the UN Action Plan against Racism and Discrimination, the Declaration recognizes slavery as a “horrifying tragedy”. […] not only because of its abhorrent barbarism, but also because of its scale, its organized character, and especially its denial of the nature of the victims.” The text also considers it a “crime against humanity” and, via Celac, references the Caribbean Community’s ten-point plan for restorative justice.

“We must approach the discussion openly,” Colombian Sergio Díaz Granados, president of the CAF Development Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean, who attended the summit as an observer, told América Futura. “We are aware that we have a problem of social mobility in Latin America. That social mobility will be stopped for generations. Poverty is passed on from generation to generation. It’s what we call the “cradle lottery.” And it is clear that the darker the skin, the greater the guarantee of exclusion and poverty,” he emphasizes, citing studies by his organization on how inequality is inherited and that it takes on average more than eleven generations to break out of the cycle of poverty.

In order to make amends, to break the vicious circle of poverty and inequality and to create social mobility, for him it is first necessary to understand this reality and to get to the bottom of the causes of poverty. “Reparation must go hand in hand with policies to promote social mobility, which are essentially about employment and education,” he says.

The challenge: breaking the vicious circle of extractivism

Like Lula, Díaz Granados also raised his voice against extractivist economies in the opening session of the economic forum parallel to the summit, where the multi-million dollar investment agenda in the region was announced, a project that had CAF and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as allies. “If we want sustainable growth that benefits Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and the world, we need a new way of doing things and not a repetition or more of the same,” says the President of the multilateral organization and is pleased to have heard this message not only from Latin American but also from European leaders.

Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni has large reserves of lithium.Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni has large reserves of lithium.Getty

Once the problem had been identified, the question arose at the summit of how to break this vicious circle of extractivism. What instruments must be used so that investments in Latin American countries leave benefits and this wealth creates wealth, technology transfer, knowledge and value chains in the countries from which the resources come but whose populations have not yet benefited from these resources?

“Adding value to production and not just being extractivists requires public goods. “On the one hand, education, business climate, competition, infrastructure and then innovation are required,” explains Fabrizio Opertti, head of the integration and trade sector of the IDB, in a conversation with EL PAÍS within the framework of the economic forum parallel to the summit. “In lithium, in critical minerals, we have to work on value creation, on research and development, and that’s where Europe can play a fundamental role, transferring this investment to innovation, research and development,” he says, recalling that two-thirds of the reserves discovered so far of this mineral are in the Argentina-Chile-Bolivia triangle.

For his part, Antón Leis García, director of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AEcid), stresses that Europe can offer high regulatory standards in the areas of environment, labor and human rights. Furthermore, in order to create value chains and achieve greater value creation in Latin American countries, it is essential to support the traditional cooperation actors and development banks in the private sector. “Today, companies are also engines of sustainable development,” says Leis García in statements to EL PAÍS. “Financial, economic, but also social services are in demand. It’s a new step in a relationship, I’d say richer, and where all these green, digital and social priorities are.”

In this sense, Alicia Montalvo, CAF’s Climate Action Manager, emphasizes that the EU can contribute more in its trade relations than just technology transfer or commercial exchanges. “Everything that currently results from the Green Pact contributes, i.e. sustainable behavior by companies, which is sometimes even criticized from Latin America, because deforestation regulations or the possibility of a CO2 compensation tax at the border are seen as a threat to trade flows.”

“To overcome an extractivist economy, one must build a knowledge society for a knowledge-based economy. This is the way. And it’s quite complex,” explains Mariano Jabonero, Secretary General of the Iberoamerican Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (OEI). And he points to three keys to achieving this: digitization, which will make it possible to fill the gaps that left half of the region’s children “forcedly disconnected” during the pandemic, professional training relevant to the region’s economy and enabling “dignified integration into the world of work”, and investment in science and research.

It will undoubtedly be a major challenge in the most unequal region, where it is estimated that almost a third of the population lives in poverty and is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change. But a region that also has sufficient resources to be the world’s top food exporter has some of the green lungs of the planet like the Amazon and is also home to many examples of value-added exporting companies such as B. Uruguayan software for traceability of cattle, engineering for copper mining or Chilean architectural services for seismic detection, highlighted by Opperti of the IDB, or Bogotá’s commitment to the production of electric buses, highlighted by Díaz Granados of CAF.

And perhaps the best thing about this revitalized relationship between Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean is that, for the first time, the countries have been able to speak face-to-face without the “arrogance” of the past, which outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged at the summit. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to talk about extractivism without reproach in all the letters,” Argentinian President Alberto Fernández joked at the press conference concluding the summit. “It took five centuries, but we finally made it.”