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Opening speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Latin America-Caribbean Conference

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Latin America-Caribbean Conference

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Latin America-Caribbean Conference, © Florian Gaertner/photothek.net

28.05.2019 - Speech

Twenty-nine countries from Latin America and the Caribbean are here today, that is to say, one more nation than the EU has member states. This is extremely encouraging with respect to what we have set out to achieve with our Latin America Initiative. The fact that we’re already a little behind schedule is because we started with a minister’s breakfast, and we had so much to talk about that we were unable to do justice to the German reputation for punctuality.

Ladies and gentlemen, geography is destiny. Geopoliticians from Henry Kissinger to Robert Kaplan have taught us this lesson in this or similar ways in recent decades.

And indeed, experience has proved them right. Natural resources, energy resources, climate, topography – all of these factors determine who we are and how we are percieved. And, of course, the location of a country plays a central role, including in foreign policy.

We European neighbours look at our neighbour Russia differently than Americans do. And for Latin America, of course, the US has a very different meaning than for Africa or India.

And yet geography is far from everything. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Latin America. From the deserts of Mexico, Peru and Chile, to the rainforests of the Amazon to the snow-covered peaks of the Andes, some of which are over 6000 m high – the geographical contrasts could hardly be greater. And yet history, culture and political and economic conditions have ensured that special ties have developed between your countries.

These are close not thanks to, but rather in spite of, these conditions.

We are not prisoners of geography. If this were the case, then we could end this conference right now.

Geographically speaking, there is a great divide between us. A glance at Lufthansa’s flight plan is enough to realise this: by far the longest direct flight is the one from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires. And this is why it’s great that you’re here nonetheless, Jorge [Faurie, Argentinian Foreign Minister]. I visited you last year in Buenos Aires at the G20 summit and I still fondly recall our meeting, as well as our cooperation when handing on the presidency of the G20 to you. I’m most delighted that you’re here.

But geography isn’t everything, and I would go so far as to say that its importance, the importance of geography, is waning in the digital age.

This becomes especially clear when we’re talking about distances.

  • Digitalisation has reduced the distances between countries and continents to the time that it takes to send an email.
  • A post can reach millions of users in seconds, while a hashtag can trigger global debates.
  • Flows of goods and data have made us more interconnected than in our wildest dreams.
  • And people, too, have also become more mobile.

With our digital world increasingly becoming a virtual cosmopolis, as the British historian Timothy Garton Ash has put it, what does this mean for our foreign policy here today? And for our relations among ourselves? This is what we want to discuss intensively with each other tomorrow, especially at the Future Affairs conference.

But, to stick to this metaphor, who the neighbours in this global cosmopolis are is no longer solely determined by the distance between their front doors. In the digital age, those who connect with each other are moving closer together. Those who are open to learning from each other. Who share values and interests.

It is precisely for this reason that I invited you to Berlin today. I firmly believe that Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe can be neighbours in the world of the 21st century. And I consider it to be a good omen that so many of you accepted our invitation and are supporting this initiative, as we have already seen this morning.

We are separated by the Atlantic.

  • But we share many values and interests.
  • We are living in one of the world’s most strongly democratic regions.
  • We are closely connected in cultural terms.
  • We are committed to international rules, human rights and economic openness, as well as to fair social and environmental standards.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, we are nothing less than natural allies.

And we need allies in a world in which uncertainty has increased dramatically:

  • China is using its economic power ever more offensively as a means of exerting political pressure – including in our and your regions.
  • Russia is creating political facts using military force.
  • And the US, which is essentially a cornerstone of the international order, has, at least, become somewhat more unpredictable. We need only think of its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the protectionist trade policy that we are currently grappling with.

What Gabriel García Márquez described in his Nobel Prize speech as the “solitude of Latin America” – namely a world in which the weaker are pushed to the fringes by the stronger – has long since ceased to be an exclusively Latin American concern.

Being the subject or the object of global policy – that has now become the decisive question for us Europeans.

In a world in which the law of the strong supplants the strength of the law, Europe, Latin America and the countries of the Caribbean only stand to lose. After all, none of us are superpowers.

If we want to have a voice, then we need allies. This applies all the more to major global phenomena such as climate change, the digital transformation and migration. None of us is capable of solving these challenges by ourselves.

This is why we must work together more closely. We must become neighbours in this new world.

This realisation was the starting point for our decision to place Latin America and the Caribbean higher up on the agenda of German foreign policy. And, incidentally, also higher up on the EU’s agenda.

The crisis in Venezuela has demonstrated just how valuable close, dependable relations are to us. And I’m referring here not only to the fact that Germany has made 19 million euros available to help Venezuelan refugees and migrants who are particularly in need, whom many of your countries have so generously taken in. We have coordinated our policies closely from the outset. And we are prepared to continue to work together to achieve a diplomatic solution that places the wishes of the citizens of Venezuela centre-stage.

However, one thing is especially important to me, namely that we can’t restrict our relations to crisis diplomacy alone. We can’t just meet to talk about crises.

In tackling displacement and migration, for example, we Europeans need Latin America’s advice and experience.

Mexico’s approach of making migration more humane is of interest to us in this regard. And we’re already working closely together with Ecuador within the framework of the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

I would be delighted if we could develop a permanent dialogue format from this between Latin America and Germany, one that focuses on issues of displacement and migration. This issue will continue to keep us busy.

This issue also shows what today is all about, namely learning from one another, intensifying what we have in common, and thereby breathing new life into our relations. That is the objective of this conference. And that will be the objective of a German foreign policy that makes us become neighbours.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Gabriel García-Márquez reproached us Europeans pointing out that solidarity is shown not just in lofty words but above all in concrete cooperation for the good of the people.

And he’s right. So let’s talk about cooperation and how we can deepen it.

I would like to begin with a topic that defines the future of our planet like no other: the fight against climate change.

It is no coincidence that it was on his travels to Latin America that Alexander von Humboldt discovered how humankind influences the climate. And that he subsequently became, so to speak, our planet’s first eco-warrior.

Latin America serves as the world’s green lung and is thus invaluable as a partner in the fight against climate change. At the same time, global warming is hitting your region particularly hard even now. It is not just our colleagues from the Caribbean who know from their own experience exactly what I am talking about here.

That is why it was important for me to put the topic “Climate and Security”on the agenda together with the Dominican Republic during the first month when our two countries were on the United Nations Security Council.

We will continue to push ahead with this topic. We have also set up a Group of Friends in the United Nations to which many of you belong. And I would be just as pleased to welcome new members!

Our International Climate Initiative brings us together. We are currently working on projects on a scale of almost 400 million euros. Others to the tune of 150 million euros are to be launched soon.

In Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Honduras, we want, for example, to promote reforestation, erosion protection and climate-friendly agriculture. We want to work on concrete projects. And, Minister Ventura, back home in Costa Rica, we are helping you launch green e-mobility.

These examples are tangible. Also tangible examples of practical solidarity and there are more in other fields. During my trip to Brazil, Colombia and Mexico last month, we also talked at length about the rule of law and combating impunity.

And Germany is prepared to free up additional funding this year and, where help is wanted, to play a role.

  • In Mexico, Marcelo, we have agreed, for example, to work more closely on combating forced disappearance.
  • I see this as a key element of a rule of law initiative in Central America, to which our support in combating impunity and corruption in Guatemala and Honduras is also contributing.
  • And in Colombia, we will continue to support the long road to peace and reconciliation – through the United Nations Trust Fund and the German-Colombian Peace Institute CAPAZ. We firmly believe that this path is and remains the way forward.

Also on global level we are looking here to Latin America. After all, we need strong supporters to combat impunity worldwide.

The best option is an alliance of like-minded states that back the International Criminal Court and work to ensure that above all crimes against humanity are prosecuted more consistently.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The rule of law also plays a role in another context. When I talk to German entrepreneurs about how to boost our economic relations with Latin America, the conversation often turns to the rule of law, security and combating corruption.

And important as these factors are, they do not explain why trade with Latin America and the Caribbean only accounts for 2.6 percent of Germany’s exports. And why German exports to the region remain modest while China and others are chalking up rapid growth.

But I have three pieces of good news here:

  • Firstly, things are clearly on the up. According to forecasts by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, exports to Latin America will increase by 5 percent this year. Investment is also climbing. And the number of employees of German businesses in the region is to increase to 600,000 by the end of the year.
  • The second piece of good news: We have Joe Kaeser, Andreas Renschler and many other leading industrialists with us today. I am very grateful that they are taking the time because they can help us to better exploit the potential of our economic relations. And I would be delighted if we could look in more detail at this question at an economic forum with representatives from politics and business.
  • And thirdly, we, the Federal Government, want to provide momentum here. We are committed to a positive trade agenda. We are 100 percent behind the efforts of the European Commission.

The aim is to move forward with the negotiations on trade agreements with Mercosur, Chile and Mexico as quickly as possible so they can be concluded during our EU trio presidency.

What we are talking about here is not just a commitment to free trade – as crucial as that has now become. Together we can also set global standards for sustainable production, high environmental benchmarks and fair working conditions. And strengthen a partnership that is rooted not in dependence but in friendship and trust.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I saw for myself how enriching it is to discuss with friends during my trip to the region. In Salvador da Bahia and in Mexico City, I took part in workshops for the women’s network UNIDAS. We will officially launch this network today.

Particularly the participants from Latin America had specific proposals to make:

  • Closer cooperation in the fight against femicide and sexual violence in conflicts – a topic, incidentally, that we want to tackle in the United Nations Security Council together with Peru, and
  • Better networks between peace activists and human rights defenders in our countries.

In the digital age, conventional diplomatic channels sometimes fall short when it comes to networking. We also need civil society.

That is why we want to work through the Goethe-Institut to ensure that women in all corners of the region can build closer networks.

That is why we have resolved to further strengthen the positive trend on exchanges between female academics and students. For example, through the new German Academic Exchange Service programmes for Paraguay and Ecuador.

Some 10,000 scholarships every year with the number increasing, and 35,000 Alumni – that makes 45,000 guarantors of good neighbourliness in the global cosmopolis.

45,000 guarantors to ensure we succeed in Michelle Bachelet’s recent call: “We need to push back the push-back.”

And this holds true not just for human rights. It is also true for the open, rules-based global order as a whole.

  • It needs our commitment and our ideas.
  • It needs vibrant civil societies.
  • It needs convinced multilateralists.

In a nutshell, it needs us.

And if in the future we feel a sense of isolation in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, then we should remember that we are, in fact, neighbours. Not in geographical terms. But in all that we stand for and all that we do together.

So with this in mind: Welcome to Berlin! Your neighbours welcome you!

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