While Latin America is geographically distant from Spain, their histories are unified by centuries of Spanish colonialism. Nowadays, however, economic aid and cooperation initiatives by the Spanish government towards Latin America cannot compare to the projects initiated byChinaor Russia. Nor can Madrid compete with the hegemonic control that Washington has in the region. Nevertheless, Spanish-Latin American relations are significant. And the decision by King Juan Carlos 1 de Borbon to abdicate in favor of his son, Prince Felipe de Borbon y Grecia, marks a milestone in them.
Throughout his 39-year rule as king, the departing Spanish monarch worked hard to improve relations between his country and Latin America in general. As noted by a recent article in theSpanish daily El País, Juan Carlos I was the first and only Spanish monarch to visit Latin America. The article also explains how the monarchy “carried out positive initiatives in the former colony.” King Juan Carlos I was a well-known attendee of major ceremonies and summits in Latin America, including Ibero-American summits.
TheSpanish news agency EFEexplains that the king made his first official trip to Latin America in 1976 (to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Venezuela), and since then has made state visits to every Latin America state (except Cuba, though he did make a personal visit to the country in 1999). His most recent trip occurred in 2012, when he traveled to Brazil to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and then to Chile to attend a summit of the Pacific Alliance. The most memorable of the king’s travels through the Western Hemisphere was his 2007 trip to an Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile. During a public panel the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela continually interrupted remarks by Spanish Prime Minister JoséLuis Rodríguez Zapatero. King Juan Carlos I eventually lost his patience and told the Venezuelan leader “por qué no te callas?” (Why don’t you shut up?). Theclip quicklywent viral.
The Spanish government would be well advised to continue working towards strengthening trans-Atlantic cooperation, particularly since Latin American nations are interested in strengthening ties with Madrid. Peru’s Ollanta Humala travelledto Spain in January 2012to meet with Juan Carlos and senior government officials. The Peruvian leader hoped to secure Spanish investment that would help maintain the positive momentum of Peruvian development and the country’s booming economy. This past April, I discussed how Puerto Rico is also looking forSpanish investmentto jumpstart its economy. Spanish companies stand to benefit from the partnership. Case in point: Spain’s Navantia is making a nice profit by building patrol vessels for theVenezuelan Navy, and may also sign contracts withBrazilandEcuadorin the near future.
Nevertheless, there have also been incidents that have soured relations. This past May the Spanish oil company Repsol finalized a settlement with the Argentine government worth more than $5 billion USD. The deal puts an end to a dispute that dates back to the Argentine government’s 2012 expropriation ofRepsol’s controlling stakein the energy firm YPF.
As for the future of Spanish-Latin America relations, it seems that both the departing and the new king will continue to do their part to improve Spain’s image abroad. TheMexican daily El Financierohas reported that Juan Carlos has confirmed that he will attend the twenty-fourth Ibero-American Summit, which will be held later this year in the Mexican city of Veracruz. As for the future king of Spain, Prince Felipe recently returned from a visit to El Salvador, where he attended the inauguration of the Central American country’s new president,Salvador Sánchez Cerén. Hopefully, as the Spanish monarchy gets an injection of new royal blood, the former colonial hegemon will continue to develop its mutually beneficial relationship with its onetime colonies.