World View: Change in Spain will have repercussions for Latin America
The Latin American election season may have drawn to a close with the two Central American votes that were the subject of this column last week, but that fact has not knocked election talk from the front pages of the region’s newspapers this week.
At the time of writing, the Spanish public is voting in what is widely anticipated to be a pivotal poll in the nation’s political history—and one which is being afforded intense attention in many of its former western hemisphere colonies.
The result, much like those in Guatemala and Nicaragua two weeks ago, is barely in doubt. The incumbent as prime minister is José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the last of the ‘third way’ centre-left European politicians in the Tony Blair mould who remain in power.
Having presided over several years of a particularly severe economic downturn and consequent fractiousness within his own government, Zapatero can probably be considered lucky to have made it this far. His conservative Partido Popular (Popular Party – PP) opponent of the previous two elections, Mariano Rajoy, is almost certain to make it third time lucky today.
It is the economic angle on which the Latin American press has primarily focused. The region finds itself in a position to which it is perhaps unaccustomed; as the onlookers in the face of a growing financial crisis in some other part of the world.
Indeed, this week was an apt one for Venezuela, probably the South American country worst hit by recent global economic conditions, to post an impressive GDP growth figure of 4.2% for the third quarter of the year, bringing the annual forecast to double the level of original estimates.
Recent months have been spent observing country after Eurozone country run into severe sovereign debt trouble of the sort seen far more recently by a host of Latin American countries. In fact, one might imagine that some—most likely Argentine and quite possibly not well represented in the printed press—might have some choice words of advice for those Italian and Greek leaders choosing to embrace harsh austerity measures as their escape routes.
But ultimately, this economic angle will be a short‑term concern. As prime minister, Rajoy’s term is more likely than not to span some kind of recovery, whether or not his country goes over the economic cliff edge in the process. Given that, it is worth considering what else a PP government will entail.
In order to do so, we return to the Latin American angle. Their historical links lend Spain a natural interest in the region and under Zapatero and the PSOE, the country has sought to influence the European Union approach to two key policy areas: multilateral trade and the common European position on Cuba.
On the former, Zapatero pushed hard to reignite negotiations between the EU and the Mercosur countries of the Southern Cone and for the EU to reach a trade agreement with the Andean Community countries. His stance on Cuba was at odds with the EU common position—which requires advances in democracy and human rights before relations with the Castro‑governed island can be normalised—favouring instead a relaxation of such preconditions.
Run as the campaign has been in the overbearing shadow cast by the Eurozone’s economic woes, there has been little room for elaboration on such issues of foreign policy. However, Rajoy has placed himself at odds with Zapatero by stating that: ‘I do not understand why the common position [on Cuba] should be changed’. On the other hand, on the issue of multilateral trade one might imagine that, simply as a matter of ideology, the policies of the two men might eventually prove to be closer.
A third issue of particular interest to Latin America is that of immigration. Although the current economic climate in Spain has apparently precipitated an outflow of immigrants, past elections have seen Rajoy proposing far stricter border controls. If—or rather when—the economy picks up again, this is likely to be another area closely observed by the old colonies, whose citizens traditionally make up a large proportion of Spain’s immigrants.
In short, while for the time being Latin America looks on more out of a sense of benign intrigue, it seems inevitable that the end of eight years of centre‑left government in Spain will have some material effects on the region. Ultimately, only time will tell exactly what a PP government means for the governments and the people of Latin America, but change must surely be afoot.