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Europe

Latin America May Halt Trade Talks Over EU Immigration Rules

A new EU law that calls for the swift deportation of illegal immigrants has been loudly criticized by Latin America, which has threatened to halt trade talks as a result.

Part of a group of 36 African immigrants wait on the beach after they were intercepted and arrested by the Civil Guard while trying to reach land in a small boat on Wednesday 15 November 2006 at Puerto del Rosario harbour, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.

The EU wants equal treatment for illegals throughout the bloc

In an effort to have illegal immigrants treated equally across the bloc, the European Parliament has passed a controversial deportation law. Now, some Latin American countries, especially those with many immigrants in Europe, are protesting the measures.

Millions of Latin Americans live in Europe, many from poor Andean countries and war-weary Colombia.

Illegal immigrants line up to request residency permits, in Lisbon, Thursday, December 12, 1996.

The new rules standardize detention and a travel ban

The EU Returns Directive regulates the deportation of illegal immigrants to their country of origin. Under the law, an illegal immigrant will have two options: either "return" home or face "removal."

The directive also allows clandestine migrants to be detained for up to 18 months, and face a five-year travel ban after being deported.

Denouncing the 'Hate Directive'

Rhetoric has been flying since the regulation came under discussion in early June. But it reached new heights on Saturday, June 21, when Ecuador's President Rafael Correa warned that trade talks between the EU and the Andean Community could be suspended if the 27 member bloc pushes ahead with the new law.

"What do we have to talk about with a union of countries that criminalizes immigrants?" Reuters news agency quoted him as telling a radio broadcast. "It will be very hard to talk business and ignore human rights."

Correa, whose nation currently holds the Andean Community of Nations' rotating presidency, referred to the new law as the “hate directive.”

Angela Merkel, left, and Ecuador President Rafael Correa Delgado, at the EU Latinamerica summit in May, 2008

Ecuador's Correa, right, met with Merkel in May

The trade bloc, made up of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, launched trade and co-operation talks with the EU last year. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are also associate members as of 2005.

Chavez threatens to stop oil delivery

Latin America's other trade bloc, Mercosur, has also expressed misgivings. The bloc's secretary-general, Carlos Alvarez, has criticized the return directive for violating human rights.

The directive was also sharply criticized by the UN and Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the rules “shameful” and threatened to both cancel investment in, and disrupt oil exports to, the countries that enact the controversial immigration measures.

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela

Chavez has threatened to pull his oil from EU markets

European leaders in turn said that Chavez seems to have misunderstood the law. At a two-day EU summit, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Madrid was prepared to explain the new law “so that the EU's relationship with all Latin American countries remains positive."

"Maybe we need to explain exactly to the president of Venezuela what this directive (EU law) consists of," Zapatero said. "There have been many interpretations of this directive... that have nothing to do with what it really is."

Chavez has regularly issued conditional threats to halt crude shipments from Venezuela -- one of the world's largest exporters of oil -- although he has never followed through on a move that would hurt supplies at a time of record prices.

Although Venezuela only supplies some 400,000 barrels a day to Europe, as opposed to the 1.4 million it delivers to the United States, European leaders have said the move is unwarranted.

Question of economics

The Return Directive has raised hackles not only because of possible human rights infringements, but because the remittances sent home by illegal workers to their poor countries of origin -- for example Ecuador and Bolivia -- are an important source of income there.

Last year, immigrants in Europe, the US and Japan sent money back to their families in Latin America and the Caribbean amounting to just under €43 billion ($66 billion,) the EU Observer online newspaper said.

It is more than the region receives from foreign direct investment or development assistance combined.

Some 15 percent of that comes from western Europe, according to EU Observer. Monies from Spain amount to 36 percent of all global remittances to Bolivia.

The leaders of those poor nations say that it makes no sense for Europe to continue to send aid while cutting off remittances from immigrants.

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