Ahead of the EU-Latin America summit in Peru, Hugo Chavez referred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a political descendant of Adolf Hitler. Merkel didn't let it rile her -- a good move, says DW's Mirjam Gehrke.
Hugo Chavez loves to reprimand the EU and the US; he loves to step on the feet of those in west and to divide the world in two: good versus evil. And just before every major international event, the Venezuelan President and left-populist makes statements that grab headlines.
This time was no exception. To compare Angela Merkel to Adolf Hitler was disrespectful and ignorant. The reference was so stupid in fact, that the chancellor herself wouldn't respond to it.
"The statement from Hugo Chavez speaks for itself," Merkel told the press through a spokesperson. In the run-up to her first trip to Latin America since her two years in office, Merkel spoke about what the self-proclaimed revolutionaries and fighters for Latin American causes had brought. She noted that Chavez spoke not for Latin America as a whole -- saying that each country in the region had its own voice and pursued its own interests.
The chancellor was correct in principle, though perhaps without intending to, she laid out the basic problems that exist in the relationship between the EU and Latin America.
Lip service negotiations for free trade
Officially, the EU negotiates only with regional organizations in Latin America, like Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur ) or the four-country Andean Community (Comunidad Andina de Naciones). Negotiations within those organizations often stall because the countries involved, each with its own particular set of interests, need to establish community-wide goals. A regional free trade agreement with Mercosur, which comprises Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, for example, has been frozen for years.
Despite some political lip service suggesting the contrary, European interest in Latin America is beginning to dwindle. German business long ago moved on to the up-and-coming Asian market. In China, the export volume alone is treble the total exports of Latin America. Africa is geographically closer and the social ills of the Africa are standing at Europe's door in the form of refugees. That is where European interests especially lie -- they are involved in the struggle against poverty that afflicts many sub-Saharan countries.
Bringing Latin America out of poverty
But Latin America is the continent with the biggest social discrepancy in the world. The neoliberal business policies that were developed in the 70s and 80s through US-backed military dictators brought a greater proportion of people living between the Rio Grande and Tierra del Fuego into poverty.
Though the shift to the left that's occurred over the last three years has not yet alleviated poverty, it is evidence that people want to be governed by those who have their interests in mind, not the interests of foreign investors.
A controversy-free plan for the summit
As long the EU doesn't take the critical stance of countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador toward free trade and international finance organizations seriously, the dialogue between Europe and Latin America will remain at a standstill. Hopefully, the chancellor will find time at the summit in Lima to meet with representatives from politically conservative countries like Colombia and Mexico, because those conversations should remain relatively free of controversy.
That Chancellor Merkel's trip to Latin America should first grab the attention of the public after Hugo Chavez's ignorant and disrespectful remarks speaks for itself.