Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Prospects in Latin America and the Caribbean

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Prospects in Latin America and the Caribbean

Article excerpt

Latin America-Caribbean (LAC) comprises three principal sub-regions: South America; Central or Meso America from Mexico to Panama; and the Caribbean. It enfolds thirty-three disparate countries, from tiny island states to the mighty Brazil. They have racial, ethnic, linguistic, historical, political and economic differences, which have complicated efforts at regional integration.

In recent years, however, with the consolidation of democratic structures in almost all of these countries with exceptions such as Cuba, and a desire to advance economic prosperity, leaders and governments have invested strenuous efforts to overcome difficulties and adopt more harmonious and coordinated policies. The more important countries in the region have also realized the need to harmonize their economic policies to take advantage of the economic complementarities in the region and abroad.

Early efforts at integration through ALADI (Latin American Integration Association), Andean Community, CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Association) and others had limited success. More recent initiatives, such as MERCOSUR (South American Common Market comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), UNASUR (Union of South American Nations comprising twelve South American countries), and to some extent, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, fifteen nations of the Caribbean) have demonstrated the feasibility and the advantages of limited regional integration.

Loose regional forums such as the Rio Group and CALC (Latin American and Caribbean Summit mechanism) provided a stage for airing political and economic views by the regional leaders. In recent years, these forums have helped lessen political tensions and promote solutions to regional problems, such as Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela and Honduras.

Conscious of the challenges posed by fundamental policy differences and pan-regional issues, such as narco-traffic, organized crime, etc., Latin American leaders decided in February 2010 in Mexico to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States - CELAC. This forum, which held its first summit in Venezuela in December 2011, subsumes the other two pan-regional forums - the Rio Group and the CALC. The next CELAC summit is scheduled to be held in Santiago, Chile, in early 2013. Chile is the current pro-tempore President, and will be succeeded in 2013 by Cuba; Costa Rica takes over in 2014. CELAC excludes the US and Canada; its thirty-three member states include Cuba as a full member. The principal features of the LAC region, measured through CELAC1, are impressive, as delineated below:

Historical contacts, including with the Indian diaspora, geographical proximity, and social and economic affinities, facilitated considerable interaction between Indian official and private establishments and the other principal regions of the world. Latin America, however, has been a distant frontier. Plantation labour from India migrated to the Caribbean region in the nineteenth century, mainly to the eastern Caribbean, comprising the British colonies of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, and the Dutch colony of Suriname. Subsequently, Indian businessmen and professionals migrated to other countries of the region, but the reaction to this was tepid in mainstream India.

Conversely, India has been little known in most of LAC, with its populations tending to regard India as a distant, albeit benign entity, with admirable spiritual and cultural traditions. It is also seen as a bewildering kaleidoscope, throwing up contrasting images of poverty and progress2. Though there were important cultural encounters in the early twentieth century, they did not result in durable and expanded contacts. The history of the social evolution of LAC, contrasted with that of India, is also important in this context.

Most of the LAC region, including the Caribbean, was populated by indigenous tribes, some of whom traced back to the pre-Christian era. They were exterminated by the mainly Spanish and Portuguese conquests, and diseases they succumbed to thereafter. …

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