My Lords, we now turn to more interesting and international affairs. My thanks are due to the Convenor, my noble friend Lady D'Souza, for allocating me time for this debate. It is four years since our previous debate on Latin America and a great deal has happened since then.
Although retired from all business activity for 10 years, I remain a vice-president of Canning House, the Latin American focal point in London. I am glad that two of my fellow vice-presidents-the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper-will speak. The president of Canning House, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is unfortunately away, so we will miss him.
We welcome today the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. He comes from a think tank background, and will add a great deal to our deliberations. I hope that I can recruit him to the Latin American cause, which needs a lot more members whenever we can get them. Whether we will agree entirely on the method of achieving this is another matter.
It is just over 55 years since I first went to live and work in Latin American, and I have been continuously involved, in a variety of capacities, ever since-especially after I returned to live here in 1962. During this time, there have been huge changes and I will highlight a few. Fortunately, with the number of speakers we have today, we should be able to cover most aspects in the time allocated.
Latin America is a vast geographical area, growing in importance, with the mainland stretching from the US border with Mexico to Cape Horn. It contains over 500 million people, spread across 20 republics. Brazil, the largest country-slightly bigger than the USA-has 200 million people alone. It plays a leading role, which is an added responsibility. Brazil, Mexico and Argentina are all G20 member states. The GDP of Brazil is greater than that of India. The combined GDP of Mexico and Argentina equals that of India. The combined GDP of Latin America is equal to China. Given that China and India have populations in excess of 1 billion, one can see that individual purchasing power-GDP per capita-is much greater in Latin America, making its countries significant markets to which we should pay attention.
In April last year, President Obama made a powerful speech at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. He engendered a great deal of enthusiasm and there was much optimism that the US would start to take its southern neighbours seriously after many years of neglect. The continent was expecting some rapprochement with Cuba, and President Chavez of Venezuela even shook President Obama's hand warmly. Sadly, nothing happened subsequently.
The same malaise has been the norm in this country. Sadly, the Labour Government never took Latin America seriously. They closed embassies, downgraded others, and the region ceased to be a priority area while we slavishly followed the US into eastern wars. I like to think-indeed, hope-that the new coalition will turn over a new leaf and take a different line; in other words, they might like to turn the Foreign Office back into the policy-making department that it once was. That would be valuable, instead of having policy decided in No. 10 Downing Street.
I turn now to a few ideas by way of encouragement. In the debate four years ago, I suggested that UKTI should be closed and the promotion of trade overseas done by commercial officers in British embassies, who would be involved in what was happening on the ground and therefore able to offer practical advice to businessmen. Unfortunately, this proposal fell on stony ground. In parallel, DfID, which has a ring-fenced budget, could be transferred back under the Foreign Office. It would be much better able to identify technical assistance projects overseas from on the ground, and stop spending funds through international organisations, which is extremely wasteful. This is very important in these hard-pressed times. Indeed, one wonders whether-with such a huge national debt-charity should not begin at home. Under current rules, most Latin American countries are middle-income countries and not aid recipients. However, there is a case for aid in certain countries, where microfinance would be highly productive in starting new small businesses in an extremely entrepreneurial environment. I appreciate that the suggestion I have just made is highly controversial. It fell on stony ground four years ago. It is now even more worth while, hence my recycling of it today.
I turn now to Latin America itself. When I first went there to live, it was mainly run by military Governments, with central planning, multiple exchange rates, import restrictions and inflation. Gradually, nearly all the countries returned to democracy, with market economics, huge investments and rapid development. Sadly, poverty, which is prevalent in the region, has not yet been eradicated and is still a major challenge. However, perhaps the most significant development of recent years has been the development of what is known as ALBA-the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, which translates as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America. This is the brainchild of President Chavez of Venezuela. It originally had two member states, namely Cuba and Venezuela, and was based on an exchange of Venezuelan oil for medical staff and teachers from Cuba. Subsequently, Bolivia joined, followed by Nicaragua and Ecuador. Some smaller Caribbean states also joined.
Essentially, the aim of ALBA was an alternative to the US-led free trade area of the Americas known as LAFTA. Oddly, the Venezuelan wealth which is dispensed and accounts for the country's dominance of ALBA is almost entirely derived from oil exports to the USA. This form of authoritarian socialism-which is how I loosely describe it-involves the nationalisation of companies, the loss of independent media, manipulation of the constitution to provide continuous re-election of the President and the intimidation of opponents. Argentina is not a member of ALBA, but the Kirchner husband and wife team-who seem to alternate in power-follow the same precepts and policies as Chavez. Like it or not, ALBA is a reality. We need to understand it in this country, come to terms with it and work out how we can relate sensibly to it and do business there.
Fortunately, there are plenty of bright spots to compensate for the rather gloomy picture that I have painted. We have a strong relationship with Brazil, where President Lula will stand down in October after a most successful presidency, which included an important visit to Britain. As and when the UN is reorganised, surely Brazil should be one of the permanent members of the Security Council. I wonder when this will happen. Chile is a great success story, as is Peru. Colombia has just elected a new President in a huge turnout, with a massive majority in the second round. President Santos is no stranger to this country, where he lived for many years. I am sure our relations with Colombia will continue to prosper.
Mexico, the second most important Latin American country, is in a strong economic situation, but has major security problems due to infighting by the warring drug cartels. Central America is also extremely interesting as it is developing an integration process called Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, or SICA for short, with a rotating presidency every six months. Currently, this is Panama, which will be succeeded by Belize on
I would like to go on, but wish to make one last general point. This year, 2010, is the bicentenary of the start of the independence movement in Latin America in 1810, in which Britain played a major role. Both Simón Bolívar in the north and San Martín in the south derived their philosophical ideas from the French revolution and their political support from Britain. With the exception of Portuguese-speaking Brazil, which did not become a republic until the late 1880s, all countries in Latin America are holding commemorative celebrations at various times, as are the Latin American embassies in London and the various bilateral Anglo societies.
The dream of Bolívar was of one great united Spanish-speaking region. It remains a dream and is, indeed, the aspiration of President Chavez of Venezuela. However, I contend that it will never be achieved through the imposition of authoritarian socialism. It may come eventually when all the Americas, north and south, unite in a common cause freely given. It also remains my dream, but I doubt that it will happen in my lifetime although it is a very worthwhile aspiration.
In my short speech I have tried to touch on a few aspects of this huge and fascinating subject-rather controversially, I fear, but that is the norm given my position in this House. I am happy to stand corrected by others who have different views. I will listen with very great interest to all that follows. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, not just for initiating this debate but for his life-long promotion of Latin America in your Lordships' House. He is, as they would say over there, "un amigo leal y constante".
All of a sudden Latin America is in fashion. In my day job in the City, I am frequently approached by leaders of industry with the question, "Do you think we ought to be looking at Latin America?". The answer is yes, and it is hardly surprising if you look at what is going on down there. I wish to give a few snapshots. Peru's economy is expanding by more than 6 per cent and foreign direct investment will double in the next five years. It has investment-grade status. Colombia's GDP is expected to grow by 5 per cent in the next four years. It has never defaulted on a sovereign obligation and should recover investment-grade status any time soon. Chile has investment-grade status, no public debt to speak of, is a member of OECD and has a level of economic, political and social development which rivals that of most European countries. Growth is projected at around 4.5 per cent. Brazil is predicted to be the sixth largest economy in the world by 2015 and is the guardian of one of the largest reserves of natural resources in the world. Growth is predicted at around 8 per cent. Mexico is a member of the G20, is the eleventh largest economy in the world, a member of OECD and has a growth rate of 4.2 per cent. Even in these times of unprecedented difficulty, Argentina is tackling its debt overhang with the firm intention of returning to the international markets at the earliest opportunity. It has a growth rate of 5.5 to 6 per cent. I pick out just one of a whole host of smaller countries, Uruguay, with projected growth of 5.1 per cent this year. It is a small country but about as serious and proper a place as you could hope to find along with other smaller states such as Panama, which has investment-grade status, Costa Rica, which may become the first carbon-free country in the world, the Dominican Republic and others.
That economic success, as the noble Viscount pointed out, has been accompanied by democratic consolidation. In Brazil, the transfer from President Cardoso to President Lula has been exemplary and the upcoming elections will be hard fought, but with one certain winner-the democratic process. In Chile, the deservedly popular left-of-centre President Bachelet handed over to the centre-right President Piñera. It was a real sea change after 20 years of centre-left government. In Uruguay, there was no such ideological shift, but impeccable behaviour by both candidates. As the noble Viscount pointed out, this very weekend Colombia, a country that has been challenged by criminal terrorists for more than 30 years, has upheld its position as the most longstanding democracy in Latin America. There were two interesting and intelligent candidates; there was a proper campaign, a proper process and a President-elect Santos who is eager to build on President Uribe's record.
Noble Lords might think that people such as myself would be deeply satisfied. Well, not quite. Why, I ask myself, does this great continent with a gross domestic product, as the noble Viscount pointed out, that is almost twice that of India and only a tad short of China's, remain no more than a bit player in world affairs? Is there some congenital deficiency? By no means. If one steps outside the political world, in almost every other field of human endeavour, we are talking about first division players.
In literature, there are Octavio Paz, Neruda, Vargas Llosa, García Márquez and Borges. The only surprising thing is that only three of them have a Nobel prize. In art there are Botero, Diego Rivera and Oscar Niemeyer. In music, there is what is known as El Sistema in Venezuela, which is perhaps the most exciting classical music experiment in the world, embracing every town and village in the republic and showcased by the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolivar, led by Gustavo Dudamel. The recent appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court is just the latest example of citizens of Latin American origin occupying the highest positions in the public, industrial and intellectual life of the United States. We are talking first division here.
So what is wrong? Why is Latin America no more than a bit player? Latin American countries are prisoners of the 19th-century Westphalian model of the nation state-as we all are, up to a point. Here in Europe, after the loss of 60 million lives in two world wars, we have begun to move on from that model. But it is difficult. How does one identify those areas where the pooling of sovereignty with others is the most effective way of advancing our interests and values without losing that all-important and underlying sense of belonging and social cohesion that the nation state provides? It is no easy task.
In Europe, we are moving in that direction. I will not dwell on our successes or many failures. Suffice it to say that Latin America has yet to embark seriously on that journey. For all the Mercosurs, the Andean pacts, the ALBAs, the ALCAs, the CAFTAs, the FTAAs, the bilateral free-trade agreements, and Brazil's membership of the BRICS, the continent remains a collection of 19th-century Westphalian states competing macho-like against one another. It would be impertinent of us here in Europe to lecture Latin America on how to go about its business. There are a number senior and prestigious former presidents- Bachelet, Lacalle, and Zedillo, who are soon to be joined by Lula and and President Uribe. My hope is that they might come together to start the process of really bringing this continent together, because we need them.
In another place, I was sometimes described by political foes as the "Member for Madrid Central". It was a badge that I wore with some pride. Spain and Portugal have led the effort to put Latin America on to the European agenda. However, as the noble Viscount pointed out, we British have a history there, too. The British Legions fought with distinction in the battles of Boyacá Carabobo, Pichincha and Ayacucho-earning for the British the title of "saviours of my country" from Bolivar. It was here in London that Bolivar, along with Miranda and others, planned the struggle for independence.
There are encouraging signs. The European Union has agreed to set up the EU-LAC Foundation, whose aim is to strengthen EU-Latin American partnership and to encourage further knowledge and understanding between us. The new coalition Government have appointed the honourable Member for Taunton as Minister for State for Latin America, and I know that he is approaching his responsibility with all the relish and enthusiasm that the noble Viscount could wish for.
No doubt, Canning exaggerated a little in 1825 when he famously claimed:
"I have called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old".
That balance has yet to be redressed and I call on our Latin American friends to do just that, and on our Government and the European Union to support them in that endeavour.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for instigating this debate. Unlike the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, I do not have their in-depth knowledge of Latin America. However, like both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, I have a great love for Latin America and its people.
I fell in love with Latin America when I attended Essex University in the 1970s as a mature student. I joined the school of comparative government, and because I knew very little about Latin America, I chose to compare the Government of the UK with those in Latin America to learn more about the region. Brazil was the major country that I studied, but I also covered Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Colombia. After my first lecture, I was hooked on the glories of this continent, and I remain so today. I am pleased to see the Minister on the coalition Front Bench to listen and respond to this debate. As the former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Latin America Group, and now one of its vice-chairs, I sincerely hope that Latin America will move higher up the political agenda.
Despite the efforts of a number of very good and knowledgeable Ministers in the previous Government who had responsibility for Latin America, including the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in this House and Chris Bryant in the other place, it was not as high a priority as many of us would have wished. Of course I recognise that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took-and in the latter case, continue to take-a great deal of government time, energy and resources. However, I was disappointed at what I felt was a lack of recognition of the potential of this continent, and how investment and closer working relationships could benefit the UK and individual Latin American countries. I know that a number of their ambassadors based in the UK felt as I did. I am hopeful that the present Government will wish to build on the relationships which exist currently, with the aim of even closer working relationships in the future.
I have been lucky enough to visit Bolivia in 2009, and Cuba in 2009 and earlier this year. Both countries are progressing, despite the difficulties that they face. Bolivia is a fascinating country where the Evo Morales Government came to power in 2006 in a blaze of glory. For the first time, the indigenous peoples of Bolivia were included in the Government and they look forward to greater involvement in all walks of Bolivian life. As I have said previously in this Chamber, when our delegation met the Bolivian people last year we realised that their expectations may be higher than any Government could satisfy in a relatively short space of time. To some extent, this has proved to be accurate. Despite the fact that Bolivia's economy has managed to perform well during the global economic downturn-a point to which I shall return-there have been signs of unrest among the working people in Bolivia.
On May Day this year, the Central Obrera Boliviana-the COB-Bolivia's trade union confederation, called an indefinite strike and organised a march on the city of La Paz. This followed a dispute over salaries and new pension laws. The march began in Caracollo, 200 kilometres from La Paz. The Government were offering a public sector pay rise of 5 per cent-well over the current level of inflation-but the COB rejected this and also called for the retirement age to be reduced to 55. The large march consisted mainly of factory workers, miners and teachers. The powerful peasant union did not participate; instead, it supported the Government. An agreement was reached to lower the general retirement age to 58 and to 51 for miners, although their pensions are still under discussion. Does this seem a little familiar?
There has been tension in Bolivia between the La Paz regions and those in and close to Santa Cruz since the Morales Government took power. The governor of Santa Cruz, Rubén Costas, is the main political opponent of President Morales. When we visited in 2009, the tension was almost tangible. However, there are signs that things may be improving. This month the two leaders have met, in both La Paz and Santa Cruz, and the President has promised to help to facilitate new loans to the department responsible for road building and development projects. It is hoped, therefore, that a warmer and more positive relationship will develop between these two vital regions for the Bolivian economy.
I mentioned the economy earlier, and this is proving a positive force in Morales's political and social reforms. He came to power promising a rise in living standards for the majority of the Bolivian people. Although Bolivia remains a poor and unequal country, the rates of relative and extreme poverty have, over recent years, shown improvement. Political and structural reforms appear to be working.
Bolivia recorded the highest rate of economic growth in the western hemisphere in 2009 in the midst of the global economic downturn. According to figures from the Bolivian National Institute of Statistics, economic growth in 2009 was 3.36 per cent. This compares favourably with other countries in the region that are much larger than or equally as large as Bolivia and are possibly more forward-going, such as Brazil and Mexico. That is an impressive achievement given many of the external conditions affecting the economy, mainly as a result of the financial crisis. These include falling remittances, limited foreign investment, the cancellation by the United States of trade preferences and export prices declining for part of the year.
That follows a trend of sound macroeconomic management that has seen Bolivia's economy perform consistently well since the Morales Government came to power. In 2008, for example, Bolivia's GDP grew by 6.1 per cent. The country also managed to keep inflation low in 2009, at 0.26 per cent. This follows higher inflation rates in 2008, partly due to trends of rising global food prices and high oil prices.
One of the first major reforms carried out by the Morales Government on taking office was the nationalisation of the oil and gas industry. The Bolivian state took ownership of all oil and gas reserves, and foreign investors were asked to renegotiate their operating contracts. The new contracts increased taxes paid on income from sales of gas from 18 to 50 per cent, thus returning to the situation prior to privatisation. Indeed, our 2009 delegation visited BG Bolivia, as it is now called, and its relationship with the Bolivian Government seemed to be both constructive and working. This nationalisation continues. In May this year, an electricity generator owned by a British company, Rurelec, was nationalised. The Bolivian Government have given assurances that adequate compensation will be paid, and in a statement that he made on
I turn now to the other country that I have recently visited-Cuba. One of the more important things about Cuba is that its constitution gives the Cuban people certain rights, including the right to work, to a house, to education, to health and to safety in their environment. I want to speak briefly about Cuba's healthcare system and share a little anecdote about it. Its health service is renowned throughout the world for its advanced medical capabilities. Cuba exports its doctors, in particular, to many other countries in Latin American and further afield, and is rightly proud of so doing. However, it is the healthcare of its own people that is quite outstanding. The health of its people, and especially its young people, is obvious to anyone who travels around Cuba. This is because, although the adult population faces the problems of food rationing-mainly because of the continuing American blockade, which the UK Government do not support-the young in Cuba get a regular supply of eggs, milk, cheese, meat and vegetables to ensure their fitness.
On my first visit to Cuba, I visited a healthcare centre in a tiny village in the centre of the island. Cuba provides a healthcare centre in each small grouping of houses. The doctor and his family lived in the upper apartment, and the nurse and her family in the lower one. On the whitewashed walls of the waiting room, there were graphics explaining how women should examine their breasts for the first signs of breast cancer. There were also a great many leaflets about other medical conditions. After talking to the medical staff, we were asked whether we would like to see the garden. Slightly puzzled but not wishing to appear rude to our hosts, we agreed. What the nurse wanted to show us were the herbs that they still use for some ailments, just as we used to do. So, from the specialist hospitals in Havana-for example, those dealing in eye or brain surgery-to the smallest medical house in the countryside, the Cubans have a wide degree of medical care, including their herb gardens. Perhaps somewhere along our way of providing medical care, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.
We will be hearing a great deal about this diverse continent in the debate and, as always, I will learn a lot. I am well aware of the darker side of Latin America: the drugs and human trafficking; the political corruption, which has to be fought and sometimes fought again; and the potential for natural disasters such as floods and/or earthquakes, which is ever present. However, today I have chosen two more positive examples of Latin America and I hope that they have added to the debate.
My Lords, perhaps I may say how delighted I am to be the prelude to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and how much we look forward to his contributions to the House and admire the alacrity with which he has engaged with the business of the House today.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, is famous for his championing of Latin America, and today is an opportunity for us to share in his enthusiasm. It is excellent that within the first weeks of the coalition Government, we should have had a debate on the millennium development goal of universal private education and now, today, a debate on developments in Latin America-a continent where, in spite of its great economic progress and cultural achievements, 44 per cent of its population still live in poverty.
Although Brazil is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and an increasingly important player on the international stage, Latin America is a region of marked contrasts and extremes. Seventy-five per cent of the population of Latin America live in expanding urban areas. The urban poor live in vast cities with low incomes and poor access to clean water and sanitation. The rural poor live in remote areas with inadequate infrastructure and little law enforcement.
I was very heartened to read the coalition Government's paper, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government-Freedom, Fairness, Responsibility. In it, we read this commitment:
That work is long overdue.
Travelling in Latin America and Central America, I have come across stories of the developing nations feeling disempowered by the international bodies. In Honduras, I listened to local people resisting the pressure from international bodies to divide up their forests under the slogan of land rights, saying that they would rather keep them in common ownership and live their traditional way of life owning the forest as a community. I have sailed up the Patuka river in a dug-out canoe; I have flown over the Mosquitia rain forest; and I have seen the courageous resistance of native people resisting both the illegal logging and the international pressure to change their way of life fundamentally. What is the Government's strategy to ensure that the voice of developing nations is heard in these international bodies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? It would be wonderful if in 2010, as we mark the bicentenary of the independence movement, we could see real progress in that direction.
In the past 50, years Central America has lost 80 per cent of the rain forest. Globally every minute we lose an area of rain forest the size of 15 football pitches. Whatever view noble Lords take of the changing climate, this is simply unsustainable. One of the most forest-ravaged regions of the world is Latin America. A few years ago I was in Brazil on a symposium with leading scientists and religious leaders looking at the future of the Amazon rain forest. Under the leadership of President Lula, much is being done to protect the biodiversity of the region and to ensure that the rain forest is preserved as a global utility. This cannot be done by Latin America alone; it requires international agreement. We came very near to it at Copenhagen but then fell short of securing such an agreement. Our eyes now turn to the UNFCCC in Cancun later this year but the voices of Latin America must be heard as loudly as the consuming nations.
I pay tribute to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for his rain forest initiative. He visited Latin America last year, and his insistence on bringing them to the table as equal partners in his initiative offers a model for international co-operation and agreement. Will the Government approach the Cancun conference with a full briefing from those involved in the Prince's rain forest initiative? I believe that that would be a major contribution to the development and well-being of Latin America. The forests are worth more alive than dead. If they die, so will Latin America, but if they live, that continent will flourish as will the whole world because the forests are indeed the lungs of the earth.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for his kind remarks and I am delighted to deliver my maiden speech in this debate, which I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, has pushed so hard to have.
Before my introduction on Monday, I felt that I sort of knew the House of Lords quite well. Until his death two years ago, my father-in-law, George Thomson, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, had been a Member for many years. My brother-in-law, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, speaks for the Liberal Democrat Front Bench from time to time. When it comes to the debate on the composition of the House, if I am not exactly strongly in support of the hereditary principle we have at least tried to keep it in the family. For good measure, my history tutor at Oxford, my noble friend Lord Morgan, is also a new colleague, which I am delighted about.
Still, on Monday, I was rather like a nervous school boy-the 11 year-old on my first day at Carlisle grammar school with all the fears of the mysterious rituals and initiation rites that were to follow. My nervousness has been much allayed by the kindness and warmth with which I have been greeted-not just by my fellow Peers, but from the House staff whose courtesy and helpfulness in dealing with new Members is quite wonderful. I want to put on record my heartfelt thanks to them.
Some may be surprised that I have chosen to make my maiden speech in a debate on Latin America. I spent 10 years of my early life in local government as a councillor in Oxford and then Lambeth. I remain a firm believer in local democracy and am against overcentralisation. I am passionate about economic development of the regions. As a lad from Cumberland whose father was a railway clerk and grandfather a miner, it is matter of great pride to me to be the chair of our local economic partnership, Cumbria Vision, and I hope to join a strong Cumbrian contingent voicing the needs of Cumbria in this House.
From my work in No 10 and Brussels, I care deeply about the future of the European Union. I believe that all of Europe, Britain included, is the winner if we can work together to build a strong, integrated and dynamic single market, revitalise a social model to which many in the rest of the world aspire, and become an effective force for good in our new multipolar world.
That brings me to Latin America. I was brought up on Tip O'Neill's famous political adage, "All politics is local", but I now believe that all politics is also global. The task is to build a new politics of sustainable globalisation. Think how the banking crisis, immigration and terrorism shaped the debates at the recent general election. Think what the coalition Government have decided in the past week or so. I am not trying to make a party point but simply wish to offer a reflection. They have no alternative but to obey the dictates of financial markets to bring down the public deficit quickly. In other words, we have no sovereignty as a Government or a people to challenge the need for 25 per cent cuts in our main public services. That is what Latin America suffered at the hands of the IMF under the Washington consensus in the 1980s and 1990s. We all have to strive somehow for a better global way.
I first became interested in Latin America as a result of an initiative that Tony Blair and President Clinton took to set up an international network of progressive centre-left leaders in which key Latin American countries took a keen interest. The think tank, Policy Network, that I now chair and which was chaired previously by my noble friend Lord Radice, is about helping to build that progressive network. In 2003, we had a conference in London which Presidents Lagos of Chile, Kouchner of Argentina and Lula of Brazil came as honoured guests. In the past three years, I have twice been to events led by the Chileans and President Bachelet.
For progressives, Latin America has made impressive strides in the past decade. Democracy has replaced dictatorship, the ballot box and the military junta, and remarkable social progress has been achieved. While the Governments of progressive Latin America are not slaves to the market, they have come to terms with the market and shown how they can redistribute its rewards in progressive ways. When Pinochet left office in Chile, 40 per cent of Chileans lived below the poverty line. Now the figure is only 12 or 13 per cent. The number of young people going to university in the past 20 years has risen from 10 per cent to 40 per cent. When the right-wing candidate for president won the election this year there, was a peaceful transition marred only by the calamity of that awful earthquake.
In a way, the Latin American progressives are the perfect exemplars of my noble friend Lord Giddens's third way. In foreign policy, they do not wish to be the lackeys of the United States. They are never going to sign up to some modern version of the Monroe doctrine, and they may even be a bit wary of President Obama's more sympathetic multilateralism, as we see from Brazil's recent vote in the Security Council on sanctions against Iran. Domestically, however, they are searching for means of social progress that avoid the painful injustices and extremes of American free-market capitalism.
In my experience, that makes them very interested in the European model. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, that they have not made a lot of progress beyond the nation state, but I have found many Latin Americans who are interested in the possibilities of regional integration on the European pattern and are trying to learn from our experience. I believe that Europe has a real opportunity for influence there, but, as in so many areas, the European Union has yet to fulfil that potential. Part of that is about getting our act together in Europe and recognising that as nation states alone, we have limited power in the new world that is emerging. We have to get our act together. That is particularly true in diplomatic representation, given the huge economies which are having to be made in the British embassy network as a result of the present financial crisis.
When we speak the language of multipolarity, we as Europeans must recognise that that means a shift in the balance of power in the world. Let us take the IMF. If we are to tackle the global imbalances that still threaten financial stability, we desperately need to bring all the emerging big economies of the world on board within the IMF structure to make it truly representative of the world as it now is. The EU member states' insistence-this is not just a problem of Britain, it is a problem of all the big member states-on maintaining their gross over-representation on the IMF's councils stands in the way of that necessary power shift
Let us take free trade and Doha. The Latin Americans hesitate to lower their tariffs on Europe's high value-added exports while their food exports are denied access to European and American markets. Brazil is hugely competitive in agricultural products such as sugar and beef, but the US and EU are both reluctant to adjust to that, although the overall impact on our growth prospects and economies would be favourable.
Finally, let us take climate change. We simply cannot lecture the Latin Americans on their growing carbon emissions and destruction of forests while we in the industrialised world fail to tackle the problems of industrialisation that are our legacy and our responsibility. The EU must make itself the global leader in low-carbon transition. I believe that that would be a sustainable platform for recovery.
In conclusion, it is a great privilege to speak in this House for the first time. If I may express a personal regret, it is that my parents narrowly missed being alive to see it. I hope that for all my time in this place, I will continue to speak truly to the values of social democracy and internationalism that they imbued in me.
My Lords, I join the queue of other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on instigating this debate and on all the work that he does to improve the relationship between the UK and Latin America. I especially congratulate my noble friend Lord Liddle on his wonderful maiden speech, demonstrating such intellectual power and coverage. He does not hang around, as he has only been formally inducted into your Lordships' House for three days. Perhaps I may say, given his impetuous nature, "Why did you wait so long?".
I have known and worked with my noble friend for many years and I can vouch for his collegiality and for the power of his intellect. He has enormous in-depth knowledge of British politics and of the European Union-qualities on display in his maiden speech-having served in the European Trade Commission and having been for some years adviser on the European Union to the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He has also written widely in those areas. He will be a marvellous addition to your Lordships' House, and I hope that your Lordships will join me in offering him a very warm welcome.
I shall talk about climate change policy in Latin America with especial reference to Brazil. Climate change poses massive threats to the Latin American subcontinent. To take one example, rapid tropical glacier retreat is observed in the Andes, with enormous implications for future water supply for the countries affected. Brazil is a front-line country for climate change. Even in the short term, it faces significant adverse changes in its ecosystems. As the right reverend Prelate rightly observed and discussed in a most interesting way, it is home to much of the Amazon basin, one of the world's greatest natural resources, but one under threat should periods of prolonged drought become more common-and they seem to be becoming more common, especially given the big drought of about four years ago. Deforestation in the Amazon is a major source of humanly created carbon emissions.
Brazil is an extremely interesting country in terms of climate change policy. It has quite a different energy profile from most other countries-not only in the developing but in the developed world. Forty per cent of its energy, and twice that proportion of its electricity-more than 80 per cent-come from renewable sources. Virtually no other country in the world has a profile like that. It famously launched an ethanol programme in 1975 as a response to worries about energy security. More than half the cars in the country are flexi-fuel-they can run on 100 per cent ethanol or petrol, or a mixture of the two. The use of biomass for energy production, involving wood pulp and other sources, is highly advanced in Brazil. It therefore has a very interesting and almost unique energy profile.
President Lula introduced a comprehensive national climate change programme earlier this year. It was an ambitious set of policies. It marks the first time that a large developing country has set itself stringent carbon reduction targets, although they are voluntary rather than legally binding. The stated target is to cut emissions by between 36 per cent and 38 per cent by 2020, which propels the country right to the vanguard in world society. It is a target beyond that offered, for example, by the European Union. Crucially, Brazil's mitigation activities will be quantifiable and verifiable, making them open to international scrutiny-something that the other large developing countries, India and China, have so far not put into practice.
Brazil therefore has the opportunity dramatically to influence international negotiations on carbon reduction. It was one of the five countries that made up the so-called BASIC group that created the Copenhagen accord following the conference in Copenhagen last December. The others were the United States, China, India and South Africa. The large developing countries are often seen as blocking effective international policy on the control of carbon emissions, but Brazil shows otherwise.
The success of the country in meeting its targets will depend significantly on how far it can effectively tackle land use and deforestation. These count for the large bulk of its greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil has a distinctly patchy record in this respect, but there are signs of progress. The country is involved in a number of bilateral relations with other states in which deforestation is a vital issue, such as in Indonesia. It has also signed up to a climate policy dialogue with the United States.
Hillary Clinton's interesting speech in Quito earlier this month marked a significant shift in the United States's policies towards Latin America. She spoke of creating what she called a community of the Americas. It is entirely appropriate that a climate change strategy should be a key part of this new approach, and in such a dialogue the US has at least as much to learn from Brazil as the other way around.
My Lords, for many decades now, Britain has not been giving the priority that it should have done to its relations with the countries of Latin America. Diplomatic posts have been closed and thinned out, ministerial visits have been few and far between and at a junior level, and our trade and investment have fallen behind those of our main competitors from both Europe and elsewhere. Latin America has become a group of faraway countries of which we know little-and this in a country that played, as other noble Lords have said, an important role both politically and commercially in the first century of every one of Latin America's states' histories-so the excellent initiative taken by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein to debate our relation to Latin America is really timely, all the more so as it comes just after a new Government have come to office and a new ministerial team has been installed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Britain's relative neglect of its relations with the countries of Latin America is all the more regrettable in that it has coincided with the rise in world economic and political rankings of a number of those countries. Not only does Brazil supply the "B" in the acronym BRICs, which has become synonymous with the leading emerging countries, but there are three Latin American countries-Brazil, Argentina and Mexico-in the G20, which now has the principal co-ordinating role on global economic issues.
A good number of Latin American countries have paid the painful transition from military-dominated authoritarian regimes to relatively stable democracies with much improved human rights records. There have also been some remarkable economic success stories: Chile and Brazil prominent among them. We are therefore missing a lot of tricks, and we have quite a lot of catching up to do. Some of that catching up surely needs to be done through our membership of the European Union, and here I welcome the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and what he had so say about Europe in general and its relationship with Latin America in particular, with which I agree wholeheartedly. The establishment of the EU's External Action Service provides an opportunity to thicken up and to strengthen Europe's, including our, overall relationship with Latin America. It is high time, surely, to dust off the trade negotiating file between the EU and Mercosur and to try to bring those negotiations to a conclusion.
Of course Europe will not provide us, or anyone else, with a soft option. The days when the elites of Latin America looked almost automatically towards Europe as an alternative to their fraught relationship with the United States are past or passing, as indigenous leaders come to the fore in a number of Latin American countries and as new players-China and India-muscle in on Latin American markets. However, Europe will continue to matter to Latin America, if only it can learn to speak with a single voice and to make itself heard.
Any strengthened British relationship with Latin America has, I suggest, to begin with Brazil-the regional giant, if not a superpower-but, economically and in world politics, that country is on the rise. This October, a new President will be elected, and we need to build a new, broader and more mature relationship with her or his new Administration. It will not be entirely easy or straightforward, as reactions to Brazil's recent efforts to broker a deal over Iran's enriched uranium have shown. Reactions to that deal have tended to be either dismissive or submissive. Neither is the right response. The deal itself if Iran were to implement it, which now seems highly unlikely, could have bought some time, but it did not address effectively the wider issue of Iran's nuclear programme as its centrifuges continued to spin, so it was a bit unwise to suggest that it did or that it precluded the need for another round of sanctions. We need a much deeper, broader and ongoing dialogue with Brazil that covers the whole range of international politics, and I hope the Minister will say that we intend to build that up.
I will say a few words, if I may, about our aid efforts in Latin America. Here, I declare an interest, because one of my sons runs an activity centre for deprived children in one of the most poverty-stricken parts of greater Sao Paolo. It is quite right that the main thrust of our aid effort should be poverty elimination, but I hope that we will not be persuaded by any general statistics that demonstrate rising economic growth in Latin America into thinking that there is no need and no justification for a continued effort by us in that continent. The plight of deprived and abused children, which I have seen at first hand, is truly terrible in many parts of Latin America. With our skills, our experience and well-directed resources, we can do something to make a difference, and I trust that we will continue to do so.
I have one final thought. In recent years, the developed world has found it more difficult to work with Latin American countries at the UN and in other international organisations than in the past. On human rights, our agendas seem to have drifted apart. We really cannot afford simply to accept that as a continuing trend. If we cannot work effectively with Latin American countries across a wide range of global issues when that region is less troubled by security and governance problems than pretty well any other part of the developing world, we really will be in poor shape as we search for global solutions to the global challenges that face us. I so much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, had to say on climate change, which is a perfect example of that issue. I therefore hope that we will put our backs into this relationship in a way that we have not done in recent years.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on his determination and success in securing this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on his impressive maiden speech.
I will raise two issues: first, the contribution that some UK-based NGOs are making to human rights, anti-poverty and development programmes in Latin America; and, secondly, the importance of encouraging the learning of Spanish and Portuguese in our schools and universities if we are to maximise our business opportunities in Latin America.
The economic ascendancy of Brazil is impressive, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords. It has the lowest unemployment figures since 2001, growth is expected to be at least 6 per cent this year, its economy is predicted to become one of the five largest in the world in the next 30 years, and it will host the 2014 football world cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. However, this success in one country masks a very different picture elsewhere in Latin America, where human rights abuses, poverty, discrimination and corruption inhibit economic and democratic participation. I will give just two examples to illustrate what UK NGOs are doing to help.
First, I pay tribute to the work of the UK section of Peace Brigades International, PBI. It sends trained volunteers as human rights defenders operating as observers, accompanying vulnerable individuals under threat and acting as a kind of information go-between for representatives of the international community, the civil authorities and those involved in conflict. It has volunteers in Colombia, among other places, providing protection in a region riddled with internal armed conflict involving killings, kidnapping, torture and extortion. Between 1999 and 2008, Colombia had the highest number of landmine victims in the world, higher even than Afghanistan. The UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples has reported the extreme vulnerability of such groups, who are at risk of total physical or cultural extinction. The human rights defenders routinely face hostility, including death threats which are sometimes carried out. Similarly in Mexico, where Amnesty International has put on record its particular concern about the widespread discrimination against women, PBI has volunteers who are at risk.
I am sure that the clock should not say nine minutes.
In October last year, the then Foreign Secretary, Mr David Miliband MP, acknowledged the important role played by human rights defenders and called on the Colombian Government publicly to support their work and to provide a sufficient and secure level of state protection for those under threat. I should like to ask the Minister in his reply to reassure the House that the coalition Government will also actively pursue this policy. As regards Mexico, I should like to know what bilateral and multilateral initiatives the Government are planning to take to ensure that human rights defenders receive greater protection from the Mexican authorities. Will he also say what steps the UK is taking to ensure the full implementation of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders?
I also pay tribute to the work of VSO, which since 2008 has operated in five Latin American countries-Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador-in addition to its programme in Guyana which has been in place since 1964. Its volunteers help to promote the employability of young people, the sustainability of natural resources, and the access to justice for the poor and marginalised, particularly women and children. In Peru, for example, 29 per cent of the population is aged under 15, 35 per cent do not have access to justice for a variety of reasons, and human rights abuses of certain racial and ethnic groups have resulted in many thousands of deaths, disappearances and acts of discrimination.
One of the many contributions of VSO has been the anti-discrimination training it has supplied to public authorities and the police. This helped to pave the way for local anti-discrimination legislation. It is easy to miss the actual, real-life impact of such a development at such a distance when we are so used to debating and legislating for every last detail of discrimination. There follows an example of what it changed in Peru: before the legislation, no one could enter a public building without a national identity card. People from distant villages whose mother tongue was not Spanish often had no means to obtain their ID card, so they had no access to basic services. Now, that requirement to have ID as an entry ticket has been swept away and the measure has been so successful that other regions are copying it.
That mention of the Spanish language leads me to my other point and here I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. If UK businesses are to take advantage of emerging markets in Latin America, they will need people who can speak Spanish and Portuguese. Sadly, the lack of language skills in the UK workforce and the general decline in foreign language learning is undermining our international business competitiveness.
It has been estimated that up to £21 billion is being lost to the UK economy every year because of our languages deficit. Currently, the UK does only half as much business with Brazil, which has a population of 200 million, as it does with Denmark, which has a population of 5 million. Brazil is the world's fifth biggest country but only our 30thbiggest export market. Even so, that makes it the UK's biggest market in Latin America. Mexico is next, but no other Latin American country is in our top 50. Will the Minister say what is being done to promote trade between Mercosur and EU countries? UKTI has pointed to the importance of networks in promoting bilateral trade and this is precisely where and why knowledge of the relevant languages comes in. English is important, vital even, but it is not enough. UK export businesses which have proactively valued and used language skills have reported a 45 per cent increase in sales.
Interestingly, Spanish is the one European language bucking the trend at GCSE, with take-up increasing instead of declining. This is good news and businesses should be aware of it and more up-front in advertising their wish to recruit people with Spanish or other language skills. Spanish is the fourth most widely used language on the internet and is the second most spoken language in the world after Mandarin. Yet the value of UK exports to the 19 Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America is only £1.9 billion. There is a great deal of potential waiting to be tapped.
London alone has nearly 12,000 schoolchildren who speak Portuguese. That language now figures prominently on the employers' list of languages that they would like to see among their staff, as confirmed in the CBI's latest survey published last month. There is a campaign to add Portuguese to the list of the six official languages of the United Nations. If that is successful, there will be even more pressure than there is already on the UK to produce more linguists to work as interpreters and translators.
The popularity of Latin America as a gap-year destination has undoubtedly added to the interest in learning Spanish and Portuguese, but our shortfall in this area is so shameful that it really needs some firm, clear leadership from government to ensure that we are properly equipped to contribute to and take advantage of the economic benefits arising from emerging markets in Latin America, as well as the intercultural understanding needed to sustain relationships and success.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on securing this debate at this particular time. It is now, as he said, a few years since we held a dedicated Latin America debate in your Lordships' House, but the interest and contributions from your Lordships today underline the value of holding such a debate. This is a particularly interesting time in the affairs of many Latin American countries. Like others, I rejoice in the results of the latest elections in Colombia. Former President Uribe is a good example to everyone in not having tried to stand for a further term, as he must have been tempted to do.
I also represented Her Majesty's Government at the inauguration of Evo Morales for his second term in office. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, talked in detail, and most interestingly, about Bolivia. However, I believe that we should not only look closely at what is happening in the energy sector in Bolivia; we should also remember the changing role of indigenous people in Latin America and the cross-boundary/cross-border effects that this increasing alignment may have. That could well be the subject for a further and separate debate.
This debate is timely also because of the recent developments in relations between the United States and Latin America, to which reference has already been made. I am rather concerned about the attitude of President Obama and Hilary Clinton as regards, for example, our relationship with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. However, this is also an excellent moment to underline for the new Government the significance of Latin American countries in world affairs and the value of our special relationship.
I do not need to repeat, but would like to emphasise, all that has been said about the historic links that bind us, whether we are talking about the independence movements, the bicentenaries of which we are currently celebrating, or the other historic links that include the founding of the navies of Chile and Brazil by Admiral the Lord Corcoran-who has a special association with your Lordships' House since, until 1998, a direct descendant of Lord Corcoran sat on the Red Benches.
I would also emphasise the importance of the ongoing trade and investment links which British companies have maintained in Latin American countries. Amazingly, these links survive despite the focus and priority that, I am sorry to say, successive Governments have given to other parts of the world. Perhaps I should declare interests as a former president and current vice-president of Canning House and as vice-chairman of the Institute for the Study of the Americas. While the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool was speaking, I reflected on the fact that the reason I learnt to speak Spanish and take an interest in Latin America, following a postgraduate course there, is that my mother came from Liverpool. Liverpool is the port of the Americas and my mother realised the importance and significance of the Spanish language. I am happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, was able to emphasise that point so well.
Like the noble Viscount and others, I deplore the way in which the official British presence in Latin America is diminishing through the closures and downsizing of our embassies and the British Council. In the Evening Standard last night, I noticed a rather caustic comment to the effect that the high life enjoyed by British diplomats abroad faces the axe. The Foreign Office already has a £55 million efficiency programme that includes spending less on consultants, closer working with other departments, increasing the sell-off of embassy space and cutting low-priority programmes. We must all regard this with grave concern because it builds on the many cuts and downsizing programmes that have been carried out in the past. I can only hope for and seek reassurance from the Minister that the axe will not fall inordinately heavily in Latin American countries.
Fortunately, our relations with Latin America are not just bilateral. The European Union is the channel through which many of our activities in overseas development, and our policies in relation to the American, Caribbean and Pacific group of states, have an impact-in the latter case, particularly in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries. It may well be that in the future the lack of bilateral representation in Latin American countries will be replaced by EU representative offices. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that possibility.
Reference has already been made to the trade agreements between the European Union and Mexico, Brazil and Chile, as well as negotiations with the Mercosur countries and so on. I would be interested to know if any reviews or analyses have been undertaken into the effect of these trade agreements. Can the Minister give us any information about this? If I remember correctly, as far as the first of those trade agreements-I believe it was with Mexico-is concerned, the effect was to increase greatly the importation of European Union goods into Mexico but not the reverse, which should be the object of the exercise. In all this, I hope we may also have an assurance from my noble friend that the United Kingdom will play its part in European Union policy formulation with regard to Latin America and not leave it to Spain and Portugal, perhaps the traditional colonial powers in Latin America. But we are also increasingly working together, particularly with Brazil and Mexico, within other international organisations such as the United Nations, the IMF, the OECD, the G20 and the G8. All these links have been referred to and it is important to remember them in our efforts to improve our bilateral relations.
When faced with a debate in the broad terms of the noble Viscount's Motion, it is often difficult to know where to place the focus. The countries we are talking about have diverse populations, different contributions to make and different needs to fulfil-from Mexico in the north, through the Caribbean and central American countries, to the furthest reaches of Patagonia bordering on Antarctica-with, as the noble Viscount said at the outset, a combined GDP equal to that of China. Nevertheless, because of the common colonial history of those countries, the two mainly used official languages-rather than the indigenous languages-the many cultural links and the apparent common risk of natural catastrophes which seem to afflict many countries, particularly the hurricane and the volcano zones of the west coast, we are tempted to regard Latin America as more of an entity than the countries themselves would wish. Rather than concentrate on individual countries, I have decided to deal with certain common issues.
I shall start with one of the difficult ones, that of drug trafficking. This remains a huge problem throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Only last night, a BBC news programme highlighted the emergence of problems in Monterrey, Mexico's most advanced industrial centre and a thriving and prosperous state-of-the-art city. That was sad news to me. Peru, we are told, has now overtaken Colombia as the main producer of the coca leaf. Interestingly, Colombia's output has dropped by some 16 per cent, which shows what can be achieved. I believe that the United Kingdom, as a consumer country along with the whole of the rest of Europe, has a duty to do its part in the fight against drugs in order to lower demand. Here I refer back to 1990 when my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, then Minister of State with responsibility for Latin America, attended the important and successful drug summit. Leaders of many of the Latin American countries most concerned, together with representatives of the consumer countries, got together and tried to look at both sides of the issue.
The environment is another area in which developments have taken place. Increased awareness of the causes of climate change is leading to positive action. In Bolivia, it is high on the agenda. President Morales travelled to New York to deliver to the United Nations the results of the World People's Conference on Climate Change held in Cochabamba in April. Mexico, as well as supporting the dialogue on sustainable development, has proposed the creation of a green fund to scale up the amount of resources available for climate change litigation and adaptation activities.
Like the noble Baroness, I am amazed at the way the clock seems to be racing ahead, and I apologise if I am over-running my time.
On his visit to the United Kingdom last year, the President of Ecuador, President Correa, spoke here in Parliament about the Yasuni project. In Brazil, as the principal guardian of Amazônica-the lungs of the world-a great deal of activity is taking place. This is another huge area for co-operation on a bilateral basis as well as within the European Union.
I may have outrun my time. I seek confirmation that the clock is correct.
Oh dear. I had hoped to talk in a little more detail about energy, education, the issue of visas and the need to review the work of the UK Borders Agency in this respect, and the role of students from Latin America in the UK. However, I shall wind up as quickly as I can.
In my view, Parliament and parliamentary relations are as important as intergovernmental relations in all this, particularly in regard to the strengthening of democracy, and the role of the Inter-Parliamentary Union has to be encouraged and built on. As the newly elected chairman of the All-Party Group on Latin America, I hope we will see far more inward and outward visits.
This debate underlines the importance of Latin America and Latin American countries. We have got to get our act together, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, rightly exhorted us. Let us start that today, not mañana.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend-although he is sitting on other Benches he is still my friend-has brought this issue to our attention and given us this opportunity to debate it. When our newspapers this morning tell us that England must dispose of Argentina and Brazil if they are to lift the world cup, clearly it is a topical and timely debate.
Others have spoken in general terms about the economic aspects of our relationships with Latin America; I want to speak in a more particular way. If it is a long time since Latin America has figured in our debates here, it must be forever since Haiti figured in them. This is a rare opportunity for me to hang some thoughts about Haiti on the back of the debate, with the permission of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery.
Latin America and the whole world owe far more than they think to poor Haiti. We celebrated recently the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago, but not much was said about the fact that the slaves in Santa Domingo took their freedom from the mighty French armies by their own efforts under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture. That needs to be lauded as having set the scene and created the atmosphere for later and rather more timid efforts on our part.
However, it is only when the first President of Haiti was approached by Simon Bolivar as part of the drive for independence in Latin America that we see the linkage between Haiti and the great continent beyond it. Simon Bolivar found himself without provisions and called in at Port-au-Prince, where the President at that time, Alexandre Pétion, supplied him with victuals and materiel for the struggle in Venezuela and other places. Bolivar was duly thankful but did not express his thanks practically when, at the Congress of Panama in 1826, which was intended to give some kind of unity to the newly emerging free nations of the Americas, he colluded with the United States of America in excluding the President of Haiti from that congress because he was black. Simon Bolivar therefore has, I am afraid, a bad mark in my book as well as all the obvious good ones.
Then there was a grudging recognition of Haiti's independence-from Denmark, the United Kingdom and eventually France-but with a huge indemnity that Haiti went on repaying until the early part of the 20th century. After that there was recognition, even more grudgingly, from the Vatican in 1860 and from the United States in 1863, but only because the civil war had caused a re-evaluation of the place of black people in society there. Haiti was the first black republic in the world.
For the remainder of the 19th century Haiti endured gun-boats and an assassination of character. The Germans, the British, the French and the Spanish all had their go at poor Haiti and perpetuated its image as a primitive nation. This culminated, of course, with the arrival in July 1915 of the USS "Washington" and the 20-year occupation by the American, black-hating Marines-rednecks-to look after Haiti's affairs, but really to safeguard the approaches to the Panama Canal. So much is owed to Haiti that the deprecatory words which so easily fall off the tongues of all kinds of commentators need to be qualified against the facts of history. The weight of history hangs heavily around the shoulders of those who deprecated a country which got rid of its slaves at a time when the nations around it were anxious to keep theirs, We need to re-evaluate history in the light of those circumstances.
There was then, of course, puppet government after the occupation. The creation of an intellectual black hole was bound eventually to be filled by a dictator who looked something like Papa Doc Duvalier, and in the end resembled him exactly. I went to Haiti and lived there in the time that he was the dictator. I met him a couple of times and he died a month later. I do not think there was a causal relationship.
After the Duvalier dynasty in the 1980s-Baby Doc had gone in 1986-at a time of great turmoil when Haitians were looking for some kind of accountable government, what happened? The IMF came in and insisted on an economic package that eventually crippled and stifled the new revolution at birth. It was so irresponsible.
After a meeting in Chile, in Santiago in 1991, all the Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government of the Americas came together to promise themselves that if there were military government in any of their territories thereafter they would all rally round the cause and win back the lost independence. Three months later, a junta displaced the democratically elected President of Haiti and for three years and two months he was in exile in the United States. What did the Latin American continent do? Nothing. The Organisation of American States appointed an envoy, who came and went-leaving a carbon footprint the size of 40 football pitches-and nothing was done. Proximity talks in New York eventually secured some kind of future for Haiti but meant the end, effectively, of accountable government with the departure of President Aristide and the rebellion that came thereafter.
I rehearse these facts to secure on the record of the British Parliament the nature and the extent of the indebtedness of the rest of the world to the trail-blazing activities of Haiti. I hope that does not get either a sneer or a laugh. I have laid out the case, but it will not end there because there are some very encouraging things happening now.
I was in Haiti in February, just two or three weeks after the earthquake there. It was as bad as the news media showed it to be. People whom I had taught had been killed; the whole population of the university was decimated. I talked to survivors and people who were dreadfully mutilated. To know where to begin to reconstruct or to develop a future for Haiti in the light and the aftermath of that disaster is very difficult for the imagination.
But what did I find? In earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince, I found that the lights worked and the electricity was 24 hours a day. I thought, "That was never the case on my previous visit. What on earth has happened?". I found that the Government of President Chavez, much reviled by many in Venezuela, had seen to it that a power station and cheap oil was ensuring that the Haitian capital had its electricity. It had survived the earthquake and was still supplying its energy as appropriate to those properties that were not destroyed. Then, I was on air myself, being interviewed about Haiti and my impressions of it after the earthquake in a studio with people from Médecins Sans Frontières. We all admire them; they get there first and they like to tell us they get there first. But there were hundreds of Cuban doctors there before them who never got interviewed anywhere. That those two countries-Cuba and Venezuela, which do not count for much in the eyes of many commentators-should practically have reversed Simon Bolivar's denial of the Haitian president all those years ago seemed to me to be an extraordinarily wonderful and generous thing.
I am delighted to say that a man whom I introduced to Haiti and provided with a network of friends is now taking it much further himself. One of London's finest architects, a specialist in urban regeneration, is taking on responsibility for much of the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince. Seriously good things are happening there: an expo is about to take place in the next couple of months, from which tenders will be invited to provide model communities and rehouse displaced people around the capital of Port-au-Prince. He himself, our London architect John McAslan-I am proud to mention his name and honour it here in this assembly-has approached the private sector to gain the necessary funds to rebuild the marketplace in downtown Port-au-Prince. He has started not with the presidential palace but with the place where everybody goes to get their supplies. It is wonderful thing. We hope that, by December or January, that will be up and functioning, and all that trading will take place again. So there are signs of hope.
What do I want Her Majesty's Government to take note of as I mention Haiti in this way? Her Majesty's Government, whatever party is in power, are not known to take much heed of what happens in Haiti, but I shall offer my five-pennyworth. It is that Haiti should figure a little in the councils of our Government, and that we should see in Haiti an opportunity to do something that might have practical and beneficial outcomes. I go further and say that if we cannot crack the problem of Haiti, there is not much hope for some of the more problematical areas in the world that worry us to death.
I am very glad to ride on the back of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, and give my five-pennyworth of hurrahs for Haiti, and hope that perhaps it will figure a little in our thinking in the future.
My Lords, I join others who have expressed thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for once again leading us in a debate on Latin America, a subject which has been seriously neglected over the past few years. I also join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on a notable and informed maiden speech. I look forward very much to hearing him again.
The noble Lord mentioned the huge economies having to be made in British embassies, a subject taken up also by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The previous Government's FCO change programme was said to be focused on the modest ambition of changing the world, but, to do that, the aim was to have more of its resources abroad. Latin American countries suffered a round of cuts several years ago, when we closed the embassies in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. How does the current number of staff in the region as a whole compare with that in, let us say, 1997, when the previous Government came into office? When President Zelaya of Honduras was ousted in a coup a year ago, the Foreign Office Minister, Chris Bryant, had to issue statements through our embassy in Costa Rica, which must have lessened their impact in the country where the coup occurred. Does the Minister have an opinion on the reinstatement of Honduras as a member of the OAS, which was proposed by Hillary Clinton at its meeting a fortnight ago? We cannot have as direct a knowledge of the events in Honduras as we would have had if an embassy had been there.
Our ability to monitor drug trafficking through central America, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, must also be impaired by the reduction of our presence. Only last week, members of a gang who had been convicted in Bogota were reported to have been smuggling 30 tonnes of cocaine a month through Honduras and Costa Rica. But when my honourable friend Jeremy Browne was asked last week about staff levels at embassies for the three years 2010-13, he said that we would have to wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is not expected until six months after the start of the period to which it relates. Surely we are entitled to know whether budgets for embassy staff in the region are, at worst, going to be maintained at their present levels. I hope that the Minister will comment on that in his winding-up.
When Chris Bryant visited Colombia last September, he spoke about the harm being done to the people by cocaine production, with 8,000 hectares of rainforest destroyed in the previous year, the widespread threat of kidnapping by the drug gangs, and innocent members of the public being maimed or killed by landmines. He pointed to the success of Colombia's shared responsibility scheme-to which the UK is a substantial contributor-in helping to reduce coca cultivation in Colombia and to increase by 25 per cent the wholesale price of cocaine in the EU. Why are not more European states, and the EU itself, supporting that scheme?
In Peru, it is a different story, with the UNODC reporting, as has been mentioned already, that production of coca and cocaine are on the rise. The Government have made some effort to eradicate the business to keep in Washington's good books, but the main areas of production are in remote valleys on the eastern side of the Andes, in some of which the writ of state institutions and the rule of law do not operate. In those areas, Sendero Luminoso calls the shots, in spite of recent successes against individual SL leaders. There is also some collaboration between SL and the Colombian terrorist organisation FARC, according to the Brazilian federal police. Would not Peru benefit from an international effort such as the shared responsibility scheme, and are there not any Andean regional measures to combat the narcotics industry that could be usefully supported?
As the FCO's Annual Report on Human Rights says in a chapter on Colombia,
"the activities of illegal armed groups and drug traffickers continue to have a severely negative impact".
But this is equally true for other countries of the region. Colombia at least invites the UN Special Procedures to visit and reports quarterly on what is being done to comply with the recommendations of the UN's recent universal periodic review of Colombia. Here again, a wider regional approach would be welcome. Colombia is the only country in Latin America covered in the FCO's human rights report. The reader might be unaware that the human rights problems cited-vulnerability of human rights defenders and civil society groups; impunity; internal displacement; and extrajudicial killings-are common also to Peru, for instance.
The FCO report mentions the UN rapporteur's commendation of all the initiatives taken by Colombia on the health and education of indigenous people, but also the massacres of the Awa people in February and August 2009. Also in Peru, 33 people were killed in the Bagua incident in June 2009; the leader of the indigenous people fled to Nicaragua, where he was granted asylum, after being accused of responsibility for the clash. The special rapporteur visited Peru after the event and made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to clarify the events of
The ley de consultadoes not give indigenous peoples the right of veto over exploitation of natural resources on their lands, but the ILO has asked Peru to suspend both exploitation and exploration affecting peoples covered by the convention until their participation in consultation on the processes is ensured, in accordance with Articles 6, 7 and 15 of the convention. Yet the state oil and gas agency, Perupetro, is going ahead with the auction of 25 new blocks, making only one that overlaps with a reserve for uncontacted tribes off-limits. Representatives of Perupetro were in London recently looking for bids, contrary to the advice of the national organisation representing indigenous people, AIDESEP, which called the bid process,
"a new provocation against indigenous peoples".
It is also a breach of chapter V of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which says that enterprises should,
"engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise".
In their response to the JCHR report Any of Our Business on
There could be one other way to leverage our efforts on human rights in both Peru and Colombia. If the draft EU trade agreement with those two countries is what is called a "mixed" agreement and not purely commercial, it would have to include a human rights clause. The noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Hunt of Wirral, both asked for assurances on this matter when the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, asked a Question about the agreement in January. Can my noble friend assure us that this Government will insist that the agreement contains clauses on both human rights and environmental protection?
Finally, Peru's national human rights plan comes to the end of its five-year mandate this coming December and the president of the national council on human rights, CNDH, has asked the international community for assistance in carrying out an evaluation of the initiative. In the meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has announced a cut of 70 per cent in the CNDH budget. I would be grateful if the Government could consider this with our EU partners, with a view to making up the deficiency. There are hundreds of cases of human rights abuse arising from the internal armed conflicts between 1980 and 2000, and there continue to be hundreds of cases still of social conflict-no fewer than 255 being reported by the ombudsman in May alone. Peru can ill afford to cut back on human rights, and I hope that it will be one of our concerns, and that of the European Union, to raise that higher in our priorities.
My Lords, first, I add my words of warm welcome to my noble friend Lord Liddle. As many other noble Lords have said, he has enormous experience, knowledge and understanding, which he clearly showed in his very impressive speech today. I have known my noble friend for many years and in many lives, in British politics and in the European Union when I sat in the European Parliament. I certainly know and admire his intellect and his total refusal ever to deviate from the fundamental principles and priorities that have guided his political life. I am sure that his parents would have been extremely proud of him in maintaining that strong position on values and principles in what he said. I know that he will bring all of that knowledge and experience to our work in this House.
To state the obvious: Latin America is a continent, as others have intimated. This excellent debate, instigated by the indefatigable and noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, has again made clear that the variety of developments and interests which we have tried to cover is limitless. Indeed, it would be unwise for anyone to try to cover the spectrum. I will therefore limit my remarks to considering some of the salient and most recent developments in Latin America. One of those has been the interest and commitment shown by the Obama Administration in that continent. On her latest-indeed, her seventh-visit to Latin America as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said:
"If I told you 10 years ago that the leaders of the United States and Europe would be taking some well deserved advice on economic management from some of our Latin American counterparts, many people would not have believed me. But today, many of the region's governments have navigated steadily and responsibly through the global economic crisis and are on their way to recovery".
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred particularly to the importance that we should attach to building a really strong relationship with Brazil. Time magazine recently named Lula da Silva as one of the world's 100 most influential people. By 2050, Brazil will be the world's fourth largest economy-and that will bring with it enormous diplomatic clout.
In the past 20 years, Latin America has gone through extensive political, economic and social change, but simultaneously with that social change taking place, as we have seen, the centre of global gravity has steadily moved to the east and the south. Now we know that we cannot ignore the power and influence of the emerging economies of Latin America-or, of course, emerging economies in other parts of the world. As others have alluded to, the continent contains a mix of ideologies. There is both market orthodoxy and a subscription to what many leaders would choose to call 21st-century socialism, but because of that situation it is not possible to make generalisations about the economic success or otherwise of countries in Latin America. The reality is that of the 15 most unequal countries in the world, 10 are in Latin America. The continent has endured two centuries of deeply entrenched inequality, which is of course not easy to change.
It is a continent which has been defined, too, by its commodities. It has a huge number of valuable commodities: gold and silver, coffee, copper, coal-and now oil, the black gold. In the past 10 years, the important changes that we have seen and the improvements in economic performance are directly related to the income generated by those commodities. Latin America exports many of those commodities to the European Union-again, many noble Lords have described that situation-but the European Union is the biggest investor in the region, with Spanish corporations leading the field.
The EU is also Latin America's second largest trading partner after the United States. However, not many noble Lords have described China's involvement in Latin America, which would be appropriate as it is fast catching up on issues of trade. Many European companies participate in banking and privatised services such as electricity and gas, as well as in mining and other export sectors. Negotiations with Mercosur have been referred to. This has stalled over a number of years for many of the reasons described by noble Lords, but the other reason given is the pending Doha decision, which it is felt prevents any progress being made.
Does the Minister believe, as I do, that more needs to be done about our relations with Latin America? I accept that in the past there needed to be and in the present there needs to be a bolder and more innovative approach to Latin America. We need to change and adapt to the evolving circumstances that we see there. These are critical times, particularly since the United States is clearly ratcheting up its interest, and when China has had such an important role as a trading partner. Interestingly, China's huge hunger for commodities has done more over the decades than western aid and countless Marshall plans have been able to do.
All the fine words need to be fleshed out by the European Union and the United States as well as the UK. We need more joined-up thinking-we need to get our act together and to think more coherently. For instance, as members of the European Union we need to pay more attention to the emphasis that Brazil and other emerging economies are placing on what is called south-south diplomacy. They are not looking to the north for diplomatic contacts; they are looking for their southern allies to work with. In my view, they are punching above their regional and international weight in an unprecedented way. Brazil has recruited hundreds of new diplomatic staff and is strengthening relations with China, India, Russia and South Africa. Brazil now has more diplomatic missions in Africa than does the UK and, with other emerging economy allies, is crucial to making progress, as many noble Lords have said, on climate change, trade and financial regulation. It seeks a seat on the Security Council and argues that the UN must, sooner rather than later, reflect the make-up of the modern world. Would the Minister care to comment on these Brazilian aspirations? Does he agree, too, that progress has been made by a number of burgeoning Latin American democracies, which should be more positively recognised? P5 members such as the United Kingdom must be ready to respond that all permanent members and nuclear powers now face new and unprecedented challenges.
Another country to touch upon, as other noble Lords have done, is Venezuela. We take note of the purchase of £4 billion worth of Russian weapons and the Chinese loan of £20 billion. Those are surely clear reasons to up our game in Latin America at a time when its new allies are preparing to pour in still more dollars.
Noble Lords will be aware that a growing number of Latin American countries are making serious attempts to tackle some of the human rights abuses that have been raised by many noble Lords, including impunity, and to recognise increasingly that peace and reconciliation depend on truth, justice and reparation. Six countries in Latin America now have comprehensive laws on violence specifically against women, covering domestic violence, community and state violence. However, violence against women and girls remains endemic in many countries in Latin America and discrimination against women, according to Amnesty, still lacks vigorous discrimination. Meanwhile, discrimination against the indigenous people continues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has said. They face intimidation and harassment across the whole continent. However, Bolivia has made substantial progress, including the elevation of indigenous jurisdiction, making it equal to current judicial process. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, pointed out, in many ways that country is making a great deal of progress.
Would the Minister clarify what the UK position is on the European Union trade agreements with those countries, particularly Columbia and Peru, alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury? Will the Government insist, as the noble Lord asked, that there be consultation with and ratification when appropriate with the Parliaments of those countries? Will there be subsequent monitoring of any clauses relating to human rights and environmental protection? These are important points; the commercial interests are important, but they have to be seen in tandem with the leverage that it gives us on human rights.
In conclusion, we all know the stereotypes of Latin America have been transformed, but there are still structural constraints on economic growth and on political and social systems, which are in need of radical overhaul. There is insecurity stemming from the narcotics and arms trades, but this House should agree that partnership and engagement are the only way forward.
My Lords, this has been a rich and deep debate. We have to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for initiating the debate, which he did quite excellently, and for giving us the opportunity to let our minds range over this increasingly important area of the planet. When listening to a debate such as this, the Minister arrives with a wheelbarrow full of briefing. However, the task is not merely to try to share with noble Lords the contents of my files; it is to share with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the contents of noble Lords' minds. In this debate, there has been a magnificent briefing for all those that care to read Hansard and study the expert views of many noble Lords. There is a massive amount of material of immense value. I shall greatly enjoy studying it further and discussing it with Jeremy Browne, my excellent colleague in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who has immediate responsibility for this area in the pattern of responsibilities that we share out in the Foreign Office. In a way, that involves some slightly unrealistic silos, but we all have to take an area of the planet to look at, and I am very pleased that Jeremy Browne is doing just that.
The debate was also marked by the remarkably comprehensive and profound maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. First, he told us about his dynastic connections with this House, and we really feel that he is one of us already-if that is not too offensive a phrase. It was a delight to hear his deep mind at work on the great issues. He is a committed internationalist, and I know that we will enjoy hearing much more from him. I shall come to some of his specific points later.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is absolutely right. To try to generalise about this colossal area of the world and this vast pattern of diverse and different countries is a dangerous thing anyway, but to do it in 18 or 20 minutes at the end of a debate such as this verges on the absurd. However, I will try to cover a great many of the points that have been made. I will not cover them all, of course, but I will write to noble Lords about some aspects that I omit.
Let me start where the debate started, with the excellent introductory speech of the noble Viscount, which immediately struck the central point of our debate: Latin America is a changed scene. We have stereotyped ideas about the Latin America of the past-inflation, dictatorships, juntas and appalling poverty. The poverty still exists to some degree, but the stereotype is no longer valid. A completely new pattern of interrelationships weaving with the rest of the planet has emerged. If we have no other message from this debate for the wider world, I hope that that one will stick.
In the words of my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, the issue is now in fashion. It is right that it should be, as entirely new influences, trends and interests for this country are now at work, which we have to study closely, grasp and adjust our policy to. My noble friend pointed out that, in many ways, Latin America is a continent full of prisoners of nationalism. Well, we are all prisoners of nationalism to a degree, but we also have to adjust to global trends and interdependent forces which are bound to require that nationalism to be modified. The dilemma remains of how to combine loyalty-in the sense of belonging to one's local community and nation, in which one wants pride-with the facts of globalisation and interdependence. I thought that my noble friend put that extremely well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, spoke with great knowledge and detail about Bolivia and Cuba. I do not think that I have anything to add to her knowledge; indeed, it would be almost an impertinence to do so. She rightly said that we are not in favour of the continuation of the blockade of Cuba. I believe that minds in other capitals take the same view, so we could be moving to a better era, although I hardly need to tell your Lordships of the difficulties.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool talked about new international bodies. It is a profound thought. The 20th-century platforms that we inherited need repair and refurbishment and, although they still have immense value, we may have to think about new prospects as well. He mentioned the central issue of the rainforests, which are one of the keys to both adjusting to and mitigating the effects of global climate change. I can assure him that, as we move towards the Cancun gathering, that will be very much in our minds. We shall give considerable emphasis to the whole issue of rainforests, on which a great deal of work has been done both under the previous Government and under this one. There is no question but that that is a central issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, turned to an area that interests me very much and rightly illuminated the issues relating to the power of Brazil, about which we heard a great deal in the debate, as it emerges as a major global player. Underpinning that power is the effective policy on renewable energies that Brazil has developed with great courage over many years. I say "with great courage" because, throughout the 1990s, when oil prices dipped right down to $6, $7 or $8 a barrel, many people said that Brazil had backed the wrong horse in going for renewables-the ethanols and so on-which it would find more expensive, as indeed they were for a time. However, the Brazilians stuck to their policy and now it has paid off handsomely. Brazil is now one of the greatest producers not just of ethanol but of commercial and clean ethanol of the highest quality, which puts it to the forefront as a great energy nation. That is quite aside from the fact that Brazil has now discovered so-called pre-salt oil deposits at considerable depth, which make it a major oil-producing power as well.
One way or another, quite aside from natural resources and energy, Brazil is emerging as a key player. It is a country with which we intend to establish close and closer relations. Indeed, we would be foolish not to do so, as the voice of Brazil can be heard very clearly on the international scene. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly reminded us that not only Brazil but Mexico and Argentina are members of the G20, which is the new motor of global policy-making. It is not the only one, but it is very powerful, and three countries in our purview today are at the centre of it. He referred to the deal that Brazil recently offered, alongside Turkey, to Iran over enrichment. That caused a number of queries around the world, because it was a surprise to many people that suddenly Brazil and Turkey should be players on the international stage. We have to look carefully at that and perhaps have second thoughts about what they were proposing and what contribution it could make in unravelling the hideous jigsaw of Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions, which we all fear.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned the influence of China and, indeed, Japan on Latin America. We are all sitting here thinking that Latin America lies somewhere to the west of us, but of course in Latin America there is just as strong a perspective going westwards around the world to China and Japan. Chinese investment and interests are spreading all over Latin America, while Japanese interests are strong, too. These are major factors in assessing our own relationship and how best we can build on it. The noble Lord also mentioned what we all recognise, which is that we may get a little carried away with the rhetoric of the new dynamism of these great economies, as poverty remains in massive quantities. The need for effective and well targeted aid and development programmes-the kind of aid that leads to development, which not all aid does-remains vital.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, concentrated on human rights in Mexico and Colombia. I have extensive notes and briefings on these, but I may need to write to her. However, I will say now that, although we have all read about the ugly drugs wars and the heavy casualties in Mexico, we take all reports of human rights abuses seriously wherever they occur. Human rights are a key part of our bilateral political dialogue with Mexico. The noble Baroness asked whether we regard human rights defenders and NGOs as important for Colombia. Yes, we do. The work in Colombia of civil society groups, human rights defenders and trade unions is very important. We want to promote the strengthening of Colombian civil society and, in our view, human rights defenders need to be seen as part of the solution to human rights difficulties and should not be stigmatised officially or otherwise as part of the problem. Are we undertaking practical work to help? Yes, we are. Our embassy in Bogota frequently meets those under threat to discuss the situation and how we can carry it forward in a positive way. There is much more to say on that but, frankly, there is no time to say it.
The noble Baroness also asked how the EU fits into all this. There is the EU-Rio Group and the EU/Latin America/Caribbean group, a meeting of which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my honourable friend Jeremy Browne, whom I have already mentioned, attended within the first few days of taking up their posts in the department. They had considerable, detailed and constructive discussions with Latin American leaders, demonstrating the seriousness of our commitment behind the words and generalities about stronger relations with Latin America.
My noble friend Lady Hooper, who is extremely well acquainted with these issues and has considerable knowledge and understanding of Latin American developments, spoke on the sensitive question of our representation there. There have been closures, and concern has been expressed both under the previous Government and recently. Our intention is that there should be no further retreat in these matters. We have no plans for further closures of embassies. There may have to be reallocation of resources-we are all in the business of trying to adjust to a tighter resource allocation-and details about how we will react to the pressures on us will be spelt out fully and clearly to both Houses of Parliament at the right time. However, in general we are concerned to see no further retreat in our diplomatic capacities and representations in the area. Changes to meet new conditions may be required, but the shrinkage is something that we hope to put behind us.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, gave the sort of classically valuable speech that can emerge in your Lordships' House. He spoke with enormous and detailed expertise on Haiti. Most of us think of Haiti only in relation to the horrific earthquake that happened recently, and to what we could do thereafter. We have done a good deal-we have cancelled all Haiti's debts to the United Kingdom-and it is encouraging to hear from the noble Lord that there are signs of recovery and development brilliantly emerging out of the ruins and horror that we saw reported in the papers only a few months ago.
My noble friend Lord Avebury spoke, as I expected him to, on a range of detailed issues concerning drugs and human rights. In Colombia, the work of the British Government with the Colombian authorities has been much appreciated and is seen as very successful. This is a very positive and effective story in a difficult area. Generally, we try to encourage-this is a different issue from drugs, but the noble Lord mentioned conflict with indigenous peoples-any kind of conflict-reducing talks and developments. We have encouraged all kinds of negotiations. The noble Lord mentioned Honduras, where our non-resident ambassador and her staff have just visited and met NGOs to hear concerns about human rights. The clear aim is to normalise relations with Honduras and that is what we will do. I will write to my noble friend about the Peruvian situation, because I must devote a few minutes to some general remarks.
The noble Baroness returned, as I expected, to the salient issues of the rise of Brazil as a great nation; of the vast power of Mexico, which is now the 11th largest manufacturing nation in the world; and of Argentina, with which, despite the colouring of our relations over the Falkland Islands issue, on which there is no change in our policy, we want to have warm and effective relations, as historically we have had. We will continue to work to achieve that, despite the Falklands problem. The Government intend to build on these newly established relationships with Latin America across a whole range of foreign policy areas. A deeper understanding, which this debate has certainly assisted, will enable the UK not only to be a true friend of the region, but will also allow us to extend the hand of partnership, which will be in the best interests of our own citizens and society as well as of those in the region.
Noble Lords have said in the debate this afternoon that the centre of gravity, and the balance of power and influence, have shifted away from traditional 20th-century patterns, and global decision-making has moved away from the narrower North Atlantic duo of European and North American influence to the broader and more representative G20. Many wise voices have pointed to the rise of the BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India and China. That has become a shorthand for describing the shift in the economic climate, which includes not just the BRICs but such large and influential countries as Mexico. It is absolutely right that countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are members of the G20 and at the heart of global economic decision-making today. Not only is it important that our international economic framework reflects the global economic reality, but many of our Latin American friends who suffered great financial turbulence in the 1980s and 1990s, which we all remember, learnt early lessons about strict financial discipline from which we could all benefit-as Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out the other day when she spoke about these matters. The markets of Mexico and Brazil may seem far removed from the bread and butter of our domestic issues, but intensifying our engagement with emerging economies will be critical in helping us tackle the issues that we face at home. The same is true if we are to make our views count on the global challenges central to our security and well-being. I include in those challenges concerns about climate change. Latin American countries are more important than ever to the achievement of these objectives.
We have all had the opportunity in this debate to discuss briefly where some of our shared interests lie. The examples that have been raised show that our relations with Latin America are multidimensional: not one of them can be defined by just one issue. A stronger relationship between the UK and Latin America would benefit us all, and I leave noble Lords in no doubt that that is the view of Her Majesty's Government. Our posts in the region raise human rights issues with host Governments and ensure that the European Union takes these matters seriously. We are pleased that many Latin American countries are participating positively in the UN's universal periodic review process, and we look forward to ongoing co-operation with them in this process.
In conclusion-because my time, too, is up-the fortunes of Latin America and the UK are very much intertwined. Although we may not agree on everything, we understand how important it is to remain engaged with each other, and we look forward to the future. It is the Government's intention to shape a distinctive foreign policy that protects and promotes our national interests, strengthens our economy, makes the most of the opportunities of the 21st century and upholds the highest values of our society-namely, political freedom, individual aspiration, democratic choice, human rights, free trade and the eradication of poverty. I look forward greatly to working with my noble friends in the House, and with our friends and partners in the countries of Latin America, to achieve those goals.
The central message remains that Latin America has changed. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, we need bold and innovative approaches to the new conditions. The role of the United States, our great ally, is no longer so dominant. The Washington consensus is no longer the ruling rubric of the area, as was pointed out in the debate. Countries such as Brazil and Mexico have their own agendas and are reaching out to parts of the world in new ways, including to the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, reminded us that Mr Canning talked about the new world being called in to redress the balance of the old. Perhaps we should turn that on its head and say that the time has come when the old world should be called in to redress the balance of the new. I thank noble Lords for a superb debate. We all have a right to feel that we have made a contribution to understanding this vast and important issue for our nation.
As two noble Lords have withdrawn there are theoretically a few more minutes for me to sum up, but I do not propose to take many of them. Fortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has summarised everybody's speeches succinctly, so I do not have to.
We have this afternoon had an amazing range of opinion and views. I cannot fail to mention the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, with which I agreed almost entirely. He will be a valuable asset not only to this House but to the cause of Latin America. His policy review organisation will no doubt produce many interesting papers of value on the subject.
The themes that came though in this debate were, obviously, human rights and environmental concerns, which were mentioned by so many. The one thing that I thought was particularly striking was the idea of unity-the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, expressed this-in Europe and Latin America; in other words, the dream of Bolivar. There are obviously a lot of differences of opinion and different ideas about how to achieve unity in these two great continents that must work together. In coming back to that in other debates, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, we may need to address many aspects of this immense problem.
I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part. I have learnt an enormous amount from this debate. One never stops learning. Even though I have been at it for many years, every day I learn something new. Today has been no exception. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.