Latin America

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					                                     Westminster Hall

                                  Tuesday 3 March 2009

                            [Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

                                       Latin America

9.30 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am pleased that we are debating UK relations
with Latin America today. I shall divide my speech into three parts. I shall discuss Latin
America in general, then talk quite a lot about Bolivia, and in conclusion make some general
remarks. Looking at the number of hon. Members here, I think that we can all do the
arithmetic and agree the timing so that everyone can contribute.

This is a time of high excitement throughout Latin America. The continent is going though
incredible changes at a very fast pace. There is in the air a sense of optimism and, in many
countries, of liberation from past oppressions. I have been involved in debates about Latin
America ever since I first entered the House in 1983. During that period, there have been
terrible times in Latin America, but there have also been times of great hope. I think that now
is one of the optimistic times.

One thinks back to the period of dictatorships in the 1980s in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and
Peru and one remembers the vast human rights abuses that have happened throughout the
continent at various times. Now one sees, not necessarily liberation for everybody, but
optimism on a grand scale, particularly for people who have been systematically discriminated
against—namely, the non-Spanish-speaking minorities in a number of countries, and the
people who suffered under the various dictatorships. It is pleasing to see that the Inter-
American Court of Human Rights is up and running and is effective. I hope that, if required,
we will be able to give recognition, help and support to that institution, because it is important
to have it.

Britain has always had a huge relationship with Latin America, not only through trade and
investment. Indeed, the Bolivarian wars of independence started in Britain, when Simon
Bolivar and de Miranda sat together near Warren street and plotted the liberation of much of
the continent from the then Spanish empire. British commercial involvement was huge
throughout the whole continent. I therefore find it rather sad to have to say—I hope that the
Minister can give me some good news on this—that there seems to be a problem, in that the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been systematically downgrading our diplomatic
representation throughout the continent and closing quite a lot of embassies.

The Department for International Development has followed suit by leaping to the headline
figures that show that most Latin American are deemed, in the Department‟s terms, to be
middle-income countries, which means that the requirement for British overseas aid is limited.
We therefore have fewer DFID offices in Latin America than in any other part of the world.
Although we still have a substantial programme throughout Latin America, my suspicion is
that once the office is closed and representation is taken away, two things happen: first, the
accountability of the programme starts to diminish; secondly, the programme is cut altogether.
We should be aware of that process. I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort and
good news on that point.

The United States has traditionally had enormous influence over Latin America. That stems
from the Monroe doctrine, which arose after most of the countries in Latin America had
gained independence. Essentially, the US sees Latin America as its own backyard, and its
intervention throughout the region has seldom been a benign affair. One thinks of the
numerous incidents of US military involvement and engagement in Latin America and of the
promotion of coups, such as those in Chile and Guatemala.

Trade with the US has always been dominant throughout Latin America, but things are
changing fast. Two schools of thought are running throughout Latin America: there are those
who want to have direct trade links and treaties with the US, such as those signed by Peru,
Columbia and Mexico; but there is also the community of Andean nations debate, which is
dominated by Bolivia and Venezuela, which most strongly promote the idea. I hope that the
Minister can give us some positive news and that she will encourage the EU to engage
directly with the community of Andean nations and negotiate with them, as well as having the
bilateral agreements that are currently being made with individual countries.

Huge change is happening throughout Latin America. Essentially, a political debate is going
on about the economic and cultural independence of Latin America, and whether its
development, growth and future depend entirely on relations with the USA, or whether it will
take a much more independent route in the future. For example, a few years ago, Argentina
had a massive economic problem: it had huge debts and its economy had collapsed. Now,
internally, Argentina has turned itself around; it is much more economically stable and
standards of living are rising. Although there are still political tensions within Argentina, it is
very much part of the development process throughout Latin America. Likewise, the huge
changes that have recently taken place in Venezuela—I am sure that my hon. Friend the
Minister will talk about them this morning—show that there are different paths to development
and out of poverty. Those paths do not necessarily rely solely on the traditional development
of trade patterns; they also relate to the idea of a stronger internal market, a stronger
indigenous economy and the ability to break free from the cycle of debt, depression and

As I mentioned at the start of my speech, behind all that lies the fault line throughout Latin
America. The independence movement of the 19th century brought about independence
essentially for the settler classes and the colonials who dominated the continent at that time.
We now have the growth of non-Spanish-speaking communities, the development of
indigenous people and their rights, and demands that their human rights be recognised and
dealt with.

Traditionally, Latin American people have migrated in large numbers—mainly to the USA, but
to Spain and other parts of Europe as well—to seek salvation, to find work and to send money
home. On a recent visit, many people mentioned to me their anger at the way in which the
European Union is treating Latin American migrant workers. Some time ago, many hon.
Members here today were present in the Inter-Parliamentary Union room when the all-party
group on Latin America invited all the ambassadors from Latin America to come and talk to us
about their concerns. They were unanimous in their condemnation of the EU ruling that
threatens the deportation of large numbers of Latin American people who work in Europe,
often as unskilled workers such as office cleaners and in similar jobs. We should think again
about that policy. Deporting those people is cruel and inhumane to them, damaging to their
economies back home, and damaging to relations between Britain, Europe and Latin

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Latin
American immigrants and migrants to this country from other parts of the European Union
make a real contribution to this nation and its economy, but is he saying that he is at odds
with his Government‟s position and the introduction of the new points-based migration
system? Does he agree with the system or not?

Jeremy Corbyn: We are dealing with two issues here. One is the position of migrant workers
in Europe. I personally strongly support the “Strangers into Citizens” campaign as the right
way forward, because it recognises that people have been here a long time and that they
seek to work and to contribute to our economy and society. That path makes for a more
cohesive society. I do have a number of concerns about the points-based immigration
system, not least its effect on poorer countries throughout the world. Such a system often
sucks out the most skilled and able people when they are most desperately needed in those
societies. We must look at that aspect.

Mark Pritchard: rose—

Jeremy Corbyn: I stress that this is a debate not about immigration but about our relations
with Latin America. However, since the hon. Member who wishes to intervene represents the
area where I grew up and learned many of my political skills, such as they are, I cannot resist
the temptation to give way to him again.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman knows that we get on very well. I do not agree with
much of what he says, but at least he is consistent and believes what he says. There is a lot
to be said for that in this place.

Jeremy Corbyn: That is what I learned in Shropshire.

Mark Pritchard: And Adams‟ grammar school is an excellent grammar school—and partly
fee-paying, just for those people on the left of the hon. Gentleman‟s party to note.

I am a little confused. A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman appeared to argue against the
Government‟s position of resettling people in and asking people to return to Latin America. In
a second point, however, he contradicted himself by saying that migration to Europe sucked
out the best brains from Latin America. Which is it? He seems to be confused.

Jeremy Corbyn: indicated dissent.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman did make those two separate points.

Jeremy Corbyn: I made two separate points in response to a very gentle intervention from
the hon. Gentleman, who is trying to divert this debate from its true purpose. I do not intend to
be diverted. That is the sort of tactic they use in Adams‟ grammar school‟s debating society,
so I am not prepared to go any further down that road. I have made my views clear, but, if he
doubts them, he can read Hansard tomorrow.

I was privileged recently to be the leader of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to
Bolivia. We spent one week there and met a large number of political representatives of all
hues. We had an important meeting with the Vice-President of the country, met a number of
popular organisations in El Alto, the very poor area just north of La Paz, and went to Santa
Cruz to meet those who, for all intents and purposes, are the leading opposition forces. The
IPU organised the visit, and I hope that representatives of the Bolivian parliamentary
system—probably after the elections later this year—will be able to undertake a reciprocal
visit to this country.

The purpose of our visit was to build relations at parliamentary level. The delegation consisted
of, from the Commons, my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke
Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) and myself,
accompanied by Kenneth Courtenay, the general-secretary of the IPU, and the House of
Lords members of the delegation, Baroness Gibson and Lord Kilclooney.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend may be aware that
in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‟s Latin American country profiles, Bolivia is
restricted to about 10 or a dozen words, in contrast with other countries that are the subjects
of detailed analyses. Does he believe that Bolivia‟s relatively weak economic status means
that, as a priority for the FCO, it is correspondingly low and vanishingly small? Does he regret
Jeremy Corbyn: This will totally shock my hon. Friend, but I have good news to bring him on
behalf of the Government.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Which Government?

Jeremy Corbyn: The British Government. I have just had a very useful conversation with our
esteemed Minister, who deals with these matters, and I am sure that she will not mind me
repeating it. She is to meet the delegation that went to Bolivia, and we will apprise her of all
the details of our visit. Indeed, I have offered her 60 pages of my hand-written notes on it.

David Taylor: In Spanish.

Jeremy Corbyn: Sadly, the Minister declined to receive them. Even though they are written
in English, I am sure that they are just as incomprehensible as if they were written in any
other language, but I am confident that, at the end of the meeting, she will appreciate the
importance of Bolivia as a developing country in Latin America and of according a higher
status to British representation there. I look forward to doing that.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I have yet more good news for the
Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that the delegation‟s visit, which, as far as I am
concerned, was extremely successful, was significantly enhanced by the more-or-less
constant presence of both our ambassador to Bolivia, Mr. Nigel Baker, and the Bolivian
ambassador to Britain, Señora Beatríz Souviron? Is it not true that the British ambassador‟s
profile was significantly enhanced by his participation as an international facilitator during the
national meetings on the new constitution between the Bolivian Government and the regional

Jeremy Corbyn: Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As he says, we were
accompanied throughout the visit by the ambassador, Nigel Baker, on behalf of the British
embassy, and by Beatríz Souviron, the Bolivian ambassador to the UK, which meant that we
had very good advice from them both before and after all the meetings that we held. The visit
was also considered to be important because—I believe that this is correct—the British
parliamentary delegation was the first national parliamentary delegation to go to Bolivia from
any European country for a very long time. There has been an EU delegation, but none from
any national Parliament. As a result, we were very well received. The Bolivians felt that the
visit was an important recognition of the democratic changes and process in their country. We
were able to discuss how we can support and assist that political and democratic change, and
I was most impressed by the people whom we met.

There are two images of Bolivia which are fundamentally wrong. If one reads most of the
press, one assumes that Evo Morales is some kind of stooge of President Chávez of
Venezuela and that Bolivia is tantamount to a Venezuelan colony. That is absolute
nonsense—there is no such feeling. There is a feeling of mutual support and solidarity, as
there is between many other Latin American countries, but that is now how the relationship is
presented in the press. Secondly, although enormous and fundamental political debates are
ongoing in Bolivia, it is not true to say that the democratic or parliamentary systems have
broken down—quite the opposite. We witnessed pretty robust discussions between the
various political groups, but surely the important point is that they were having those debates.

Another fundamental point is that President Morales became the President of Bolivia as a
result of popular social movements, including the campaign against water privatisation in
Cochabamba and the cocoa growers‟ campaign, of which he was an intrinsic part and
effectively the leader. He was also helped by the strength of the miners‟ unions in several
places, particularly Potosi, and the strength of the popular movements representing one of the
poorest places in Bolivia, El Alto, a large barrio on the Altiplano above Le Paz. Morales
became President as a result of those campaigns and popular movements and, in many
ways, he represents the hopes and aspirations of the very poorest people in Bolivia.
Furthermore, Morales was the first non-Spanish speaking, indigenous leader to be elected to
the presidency on a popular vote, the highest popular vote ever received by a presidential
candidate in Bolivia; and it was the first time that somebody had won in the first round of an
election. That is very significant, indeed, and we should pay due respect to it. At a reception
organised by the British embassy, somebody who, as far as I can gather, is not necessarily a
supporter of Evo Morales or the political process that he represents told me, “Forever, Bolivia
will be judged before and after the election of Evo.” His election has been that fundamental to
the change in attitudes in Latin America.

The new constitution pursued by the Bolivian Government is being developed through a
constituent assembly chaired by a redoubtable lady, Silvia Lazarte, who addressed a meeting
in the House when she visited late last year. The constitution is designed to protect
indigenous rights, land rights and linguistic rights, to provide education, health, opportunities
and hope, and to protect human rights in Bolivian society. This has been met with huge
opposition, particularly from the wealthier provinces, mainly led by Santa Cruz, which are
opposed to it and to the land reform elements in particular. It went to a national referendum
and was approved by just over 61 per cent. on a national vote. The vote in La Paz was
considerably more than 61 per cent. and in Santa Cruz and the other opposition provinces, for
want of a better word, the result was more or less the mirror reverse of the national result,
with around 40 per cent. support for it and about 60 per cent. opposed. Nevertheless, it has
been approved.

During the first three days of our visit we were gasping our way around La Paz because we
rather unwisely went straight into activities and meetings without taking sensible advice to
spend a day acclimatising ourselves to living at 4,000 m. So we got through it, shall we say.
We had meetings with the Government, the vice-president and the Foreign Minister and were
able to discuss Bolivia‟s relations with neighbours and with Europe.

Bolivia‟s relations with its neighbours are obviously important. It has a small population and is
a poor country that relies particularly on exports of hydrocarbons and minerals for its survival.
Therefore, relations with Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru are important. Unfortunately,
Bolivia‟s history has been one of wars and loss of territory to Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and
Chile. There is a continuing problem with the competing claims over the northern part of Chile
and how those are going to be resolved. It is not for us to decide how that situation will be
resolved: that has to be done bilaterally within Latin America. It is creditable that there has
been a series of meetings and quite a good relationship developing between the Bolivian and
Chilean Governments. One just has to support that process and hope that something good
comes out of it. Bolivia requires good relations to exports its crops and goods.

On the democratic developments in Bolivia, we met representatives of all the political parties
and had an interesting meeting with the public defender or ombudsman, who is effectively a
kind of human rights commissioner. The person we met was impressive. The reports that she
had produced on investigations were objective and interesting, particularly the one on the
killings in Pando, where a number of people died in a conflict between a group of campesinos
and representatives of the prefect. One can say with confidence that there is a strength in the
democratic process there and in the inquisitive process through the public defender‟s office,
for example. We went to Santa Cruz where we met the prefect, who is strongly opposed to
the general trend of Bolivian politics and would not count himself a great friend of Evo
Morales, to put it mildly. He complains loudly about the land reform and we were slightly
puzzled by that, because it seemed fairly modest to us, in that there is still an enormous land
area allowed to be owned under the new constitution and a huge imbalance in land
ownership. We urged him strongly to undertake a series of meetings with President Morales
and join in the national debate and consensus, because although a constitution has been
passed into law, a lot of subsequent legislation is needed before the elections can be held in
December. The logjam that exists between the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies is not
helpful. We urged him to take part in debates and in that discussion. Indeed, we presented
him with two whisky glasses, suggesting that he drink from one himself and keep the other for
President Morales when he visits, so that they can have a little chat together. My hon. Friend
the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington complimented him on the high quality
of the British suit that he was wearing during the discussion.

The other aspect of Bolivia‟s future is its mineral resources and hydrocarbons. Bolivia has
been pillaged by Spain and by international companies that have taken the silver and tin and
paid, effectively, low prices to the Bolivian people. The Bolivian Government have taken into
public ownership all mineral resources, particularly hydrocarbons. There was an interesting
debate about how Bolivia now goes forward, both in respect of exploration for new reserves of
gas in particular, and the exploitation of those reserves.

We spent a day visiting the BG Bolivia gas field near Villa Montes, in the south, looking at the
process used to extract the gas from the ground—drying it and cleaning it—after which most
of it is exported to Argentina and Brazil. We also had a discussion with a representative of the
state hydrocarbons company. Essentially, at the moment the hydrocarbons are in state
hands. The companies operating in Bolivia extract, cleanse and export the gas. The process
is monitored by the state company, and the extracting company—in this case, BG Bolivia, but
there are others, such as Repsol—is paid accordingly. There seemed to be a fairly good
practical relationship, although the issue of the funding of future exploration had not been
satisfactorily resolved as yet. We hope that it is resolved in the near future.

For me, going to Bolivia was exciting. Seeing what was happening, including feeling the
sense of hope and optimism of many of the poorest people—particularly, meeting the
indigenous groups that have traditionally suffered the most appalling discrimination, including
lack of access to education and the political system—was exciting and made me optimistic.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): As my hon. Friend has
noted, President Evo Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, in a society in which,
in living memory, indigenous people were second-class citizens who were not allowed into
certain parts of La Paz and not even allowed to meet a person of European origin and look
them in the eye. Do not all the left-of-centre Latin American Governments—those led by Evo
Morales in Bolivia, Lula in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela—represent groups and ethnicities
that have hitherto been marginalised in Latin American society? Is it not important that Her
Majesty‟s Government look at these Governments not just through purely ideological eyes,
but through those of the marginalised ethnic groups and indigenous people whom they
represent and put ourselves on the right side of history in supporting the progressive change
that they represent?

Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with my hon. Friend. I first went to Latin America at the age of 19. I
remember going to remote towns and villages in Bolivia where nobody spoke one word of
Spanish, and they did not feel safe in going—and did not even feel the need to go—much
beyond those communities. As far as they were concerned they were surviving and a
Spanish-speaking elite ran the politics and dominated the whole country. Things have
changed and they are never going to change back. A fundamental, exciting change has
happened. The change is not just linguistic: it is cultural, iconic and religious and permeates
all the way through society. All of us are going to begin to understand a lot more about the
culture of Latin America that has been suppressed for a long time and is now bubbling up to
the surface and coming out into the open. That is exciting.

The way that we deal with the change is important. As my hon. Friend the Member for
Barnsley, East and Mexborough said in his intervention, there was a serious attempt at
derailing the Government of Bolivia last year and there were a series of stand-offs. A number
of things happened. The European Union ambassadors, particularly our ambassador, got
involved in trying to promote political dialogue, which helped stabilise the situation, and every
one of the neighbouring countries, bar none, took part in an important meeting in Santiago
and declared their support for the unity of Bolivia and opposed the idea of any secession of
the wealthiest parts in the south and east of the country. The ambassador and others have
played a valuable role in that process. I think that I am right in saying that all the members of
the delegation concurred on those points.
Jeff Ennis: On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that there is still a tension between the
national Government and the regions? To some extent, I compare that with the tension 10 or
15 years ago between the different regions of our country. That tension needs to be resolved
through dialogue and talking, and that is what we—as a neutral nation, as it were—should be
promoting in Bolivia.

Jeremy Corbyn: I agree that the only way to resolve the issues is to accept the need for
justice, dialogue and democratic and accountable government. I did not detect any hostility to
that concept by most of the politicians whom we met, but I detected a group of people in
some parts of Bolivia who are extremely wealthy and powerful and who believe that they need
not pay taxes and that revenue should not be used to deal with the appalling poverty that the
people on the Altiplano typically suffer. More than half the population survive on less than $2
a day, and living in Bolivia is not cheap.

Ms Abbott: On the tension between different groups in Bolivian society, more dialogue is
certainly necessary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff
Ennis) said. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) agree that
particular groups should not believe that they have the tacit support of the United States?

Jeremy Corbyn: US strategy towards Latin America has changed for several reasons. Its
economic problems, its obsession with the middle east, and the war in Iraq have taken its
attention away from Latin America. The new President and his Administration have not made
a high priority of relations with Latin America. This is a period when Latin America can
consolidate itself as an entity following the eternal dispute with the United States.

Mark Pritchard: Does the hon. Gentleman think it right, while the British Prime Minister is in
Washington talking to world leaders about avoiding protectionism, to call for protectionism in
Latin America when almost all Latin Americans, whether in Bolivia or Venezuela, want free
trade—albeit fair free trade—to improve their life chances?

Jeremy Corbyn: I do not remember calling at any time for protectionism in Latin America. I
was talking about investment to ensure that hydrocarbon and other mineral resources are
properly developed and that anti-poverty programmes strengthen the internal market and
internal buying power of people in Bolivia, and about the development of intra-Latin American
trade, rather than Latin America‟s tradition of exporting raw materials to other parts of the
world. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that a considerable body of opinion throughout
Latin America is trying to develop the Latin American economy and internal trade. Bolivia‟s
trade pattern is increasingly with Brazil and Argentina rather than with other parts of the world.

Mark Pritchard rose—

Jeremy Corbyn: I will give way once more, but I think the hon. Gentleman may be preparing
to make a speech.

Mark Pritchard: Not at all. I am merely trying to be helpful. Every export that might be
prevented could have an impact on British imports. Brazil is our biggest trading partner in
Latin America, and any hint of trimming exports or imports would have an impact on both
Brazilians and the United Kingdom.

Jeremy Corbyn: I do not know whether I am missing something here, but I have said nothing
of the sort. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman‟s point is. There is terrible poverty in
Bolivia and in most Latin American countries. The whole political imperative and process of
an anti-poverty strategy is to liberate people from the oppression and depression arising from
poverty and from lack of opportunity, education and health care. We should be pleased to
witness that, and to support it.

The underbelly of Latin America is poverty and oppression, and the human rights abuse that
comes from that. Individual human rights—the right to vote, the right to free expression, the
right to free organisation, the right to religious freedom—are obviously important and are
enshrined in the universal declaration, but people have a right to be able to live where they
are, free from poverty. For many, the only way out of poverty is to escape, and ones sees
poor migrants leaving Guatemala, travelling through Mexico to try to get into the USA to
survive, but being brutally oppressed at various points. The death rate among migrants is very
high. There is a “fourth world” of migrant peoples, and we would do well to recognise that the
way to prevent that is to encourage the economic development and anti-poverty programmes
that are so important and exciting throughout much of Latin America.

I hope that the Minister will say that the Government take seriously our relations with Latin
America, and that they are prepared, if necessary, to upgrade our diplomatic representation,
and prepared to encourage DFID to become far more involved in Latin America.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I understand why the hon. Gentleman has
concentrated on Bolivia, but he has not said much about his old friend, President Chavez of
Venezuela. Does he think that seizing assets by nationalisation, whether in Venezuela or
Bolivia, will encourage investment in delivering mineral resources, which in turn benefit the
people through trade and exports?

Jeremy Corbyn: I have spoken for 35 minutes, and the hon. Gentleman tempts me to speak
for another 35 minutes about Venezuela.

Ms Abbott: Time does not permit my hon. Friend to expand on the glories and triumphs of
President Chavez in Venezuela—[Interruption.]Others among us will do that. Our delegation
to Bolivia was greatly aided by my hon. Friend‟s expert leadership and his fluent Spanish.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that kind intervention. I am tempted to speak at
great length about Venezuela and other places, but I will not, save to say that any country has
the right to take into public ownership resources, industries and services. That is what a
sovereign nation can do. This country has done that. We have just taken several banks into
public ownership. Even Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for The Wrekin
(Mark Pritchard), could not bring themselves to vote against bringing banks into public
ownership—[Interruption.] I was there, and I observed what was going on.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman should be careful.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am being extremely careful, but I am sure of my facts.

President Chavez in Venezuela is taking some industries and services into public
ownership—I understand that he is minded to take rice processing into public ownership—
because he believes that his Government are being held hostage by the administration of
those companies and the denial of food supplies. Some of us witnessed the same process
against the Popular Unity Government in Chile in the 1970s. Governments have the right to
do that.

We had discussions with Bolivia about its nationalisation programme, and about its wish to
ensure, by agreement, open negotiation and public contract, exploitation and exploration of
mineral resources. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Any country can do that if it
wishes, and we must respect the sovereignty of any nation that wishes to take its own path to
economic development.

These are exciting times in Latin America, and poverty can be conquered. For the first time,
many people can see a pathway out of poverty. I hope that we will respect and support that
process, and the cultural liberation that is taking place throughout Latin America, with an
even-handed approach that ensures decent, fair and reasonable trade, and that we support
the independence of every country in bringing that about. Opportunities exist for British
companies in railway development, construction, high technology, machinery and tools, and
so on. There are huge development programmes in Mexico and elsewhere in which we could
and perhaps should be involved. There is nothing wrong with that, because that is reasonable
and fair trade, but above all we must respect the integrity of the nations concerned, and their
choice of pathway out of poverty.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. David Amess (in the Chair): Order. The winding-up speeches start in 21 minutes‟ time,
so to be able to call all hon. Members who wish to speak, I ask for their co-operation in
sharing out the time.

10.9 am

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I shall try to keep my remarks to 20 minutes. I
congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on initiating the debate,
which is timely, and I thank him for his generosity in giving way so often. I also pay tribute to
Baroness Gibson, Anne Gibson, in the other place, who chairs the all-party group on Latin
America and does an excellent job in that role.

The hon. Gentleman, in his concluding remarks, mentioned the word “exploitation” and of
course none of us in the House, whatever our political views, would want to see the
exploitation of a single person in Latin America, but even if there has been exploitation by
some Governments and some states in Latin America, that should not be replaced by
exploitation involving the private sector. We need an end to exploitation from whatever

That leads me to renationalisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-
Brown) is right to say that renationalisation of assets is not only illegal in most cases; it also
sends a negative message with regard to future investment. It creates a negative investment
climate that international observers, with many places to shop around, might decide to avoid
and which would put off would-be investors. The hon. Member for Islington, North himself said
that in relation to his trip to Bolivia. There is a big unanswered question in relation to future
exploration. It is okay to renationalise assets, but what do people do once they have them?
That applies to many countries, not only in Latin America but across the world, once they
have taken back state assets. One might even argue that it even applies in this country more
recently. What do people do once they have such assets, and how is future investment

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) seemed to think
that the whole nationalisation debate was about a virility symbol and whether sovereign
countries have the right to take those assets. Of course they have that right. The question is
whether it is wise to deploy it. If the private sector sees assets being taken with no money
being paid for them, that affects not only the minerals sector, which is directly affected, but the
whole economy, because other countries will not want to invest in those economies and
therefore the standard of living of those peoples suffers as a result.

Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as he always does. The other
relevant point is that there is a direct impact on constituents in Islington, Shropshire and
everywhere else represented here, because there are pension investments in those countries
and for every industry that is nationalised, there is a direct impact on pension funds in the City
of London as well. It is a very worrying step that President Chavez has taken deciding to
move into food production and food supply and, as we have heard, to renationalise rice
production in his country.

That leads me to land reform which, of course, is needed in Latin America—I accept that.
Redistribution of land is needed, but it must be both legal and fair. A sensible period of
consultation is needed with the people whose land will perhaps be taken back to the state. A
right of appeal is also needed. So often in Latin America we have not seen that. We have
seen just the heavy hand of the state moving in and the state saying, “We‟re taking land back
from you.” There is no consultation or compensation. It is illegal most of the time and it
certainly is not fair. Again, that sends the wrong message about Latin America as a continent.
Unfortunately, there is a negative halo from certain countries in Latin America, which impacts
on the whole continent when other countries are wanting to do the right thing, even with land
redistribution and—dare I say it?—renationalisation.

The same applies to free trade. Some countries want global free trade. Some want regional
free trade and, indeed, free trade with north America. If those countries, which have elected
Governments, want to have a free trade agreement with north America, they should be
entitled to do so. They should not have to deal with meddling, either political or through other,
more sinister means, by countries that take a different ideological view, as that is unsettling
and destabilising for the region. If countries such as Colombia and Peru want to trade with
north America, they should be entitled to do so. That is not to suggest that they do not want to
trade internally, within the borders of Latin America. I believe that they want to do that as well,
but if they want to do both, they should be able to do so without having political machinations
set upon them by neighbouring nations or others on the continent.

That is why it is important, as we have heard today—I hope that the Minister will note this—
that there is cross-party consensus on real concerns about UK diplomatic representation in
Latin America. It was a backward step for the Paraguay embassy to close. Paraguay is a
huge country; Argentina is large as well, and to try to run operations in both countries from
Buenos Aires is very difficult. If I was, for example, a Paraguayan Transport Minister wanting
to construct three new bridges and there was a French embassy and a Germany embassy
but no British embassy and there was a trade counsellor in those embassies, who would I be
more likely to call and want to nip round to see to talk about that investment project? From a
political, diplomatic and trade point of view, the United Kingdom is losing out for every

It was rather sad that when the Serious Organised Crime Agency took over from Her
Majesty‟s Revenue and Customs, it took a different view of the role of drug liaison officers
working with Governments in Latin America. I hope that the Minister will speak to her
counterparts in the Home Office to ask this question: given that Latin America is still one of
the major providers of drugs that end up on our streets and impact on all our communities,
and given that there has been a change since SOCA replaced HMRC on this important issue,
are we confident that the current level of drug liaison officer support for our embassies and for
Governments in Latin America is adequate? I am conscious of time, but I want to touch on
two more issues. What would be helpful to you, Mr. Amess? You saw how many people rose
to their feet wishing to speak.

Mr. David Amess (in the Chair): Certainly two other hon. Members wish to speak, and there
are just 13 minutes left until the winding-up speeches.

Mark Pritchard: To be helpful, Mr. Amess, I shall speak for just three more minutes, first on
animal conservation and secondly on human rights. I hope that the Brazilian Government will
consider illegal logging. We have seen the demise of the giant otter, squirrel monkeys and
macaws. There is also the issue of the illegal shipping of mahogany. According to Nature
Conservancy, only 7 per cent. of Brazil‟s Atlantic forest remains. Excessive commercial
ranching causes deforestation. I am very concerned about illegal logging in Peru, which I
visited a couple of years ago. I am especially concerned about the Tahuamanu rain forest. I
hope that hon. Members will join me in supporting the WWF campaign to save the declining
turtle populations in Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador and Peru. In Chile, the kodkod, one of Latin
America‟s smallest wild cats, has become endangered, as its habitat is being destroyed.

I hope that the Government will consider the pet trade in this country. I introduced two Bills on
the issue in this Parliament, but they were rejected by the Government. One was on the sale
of endangered animals on the internet. Endangered animals from the countries that we are
discussing are still being sold on the internet in this country and being homed and housed in
this country, which is wrong. The Government also rejected my Bill on the sale of primates as
pets. Some 3,000 primates are being kept as pets in this country. Many of them were sourced
from Latin America. Latin American countries, along with the UK Government, need to do far
more if they care about their environment and habitats. Eco-tourism may be a motivation: why
should people come to the diminished rain forests—albeit that some of them are saved—if
there is no wildlife to see there?

Human rights are improving in some countries, for example, Colombia. I welcome the decline
in the number of homicides and kidnappings in Colombia and in the homicides of union
leaders. More needs to be done and each killing is unacceptable, but I want to put on the
record my recognition of the efforts of the Government of President Uribe. Cuba has not been
mentioned. One could argue that it is not really part of Latin America, but it is for the sake of
the work of Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. I hope that the Foreign
Office will look urgently into the case of Church leader Pastor Robert Rodriguez—previously
the national president of the Interdenominational Fellowship of Evangelical Pastors and
Ministers in Cuba—whose trial was due to be held in the past 72 hours. I believe that the
charges against him are trumped up and that there should be a fair trial. If Raul Castro is
serious about changing Cuba, one of the best things that he can do is allow freedom of
speech and freedom of religion and set an example by allowing a fair trial for this pastor, who
is seriously ill in prison. All that Pastor Rodriguez does is preach the gospel, serve the poor
and help his community.

10.20 am

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North
(Jeremy Corbyn), who has few peers in Parliament in terms of his commitment to the people
of Latin America.

What is so interesting about Latin America is that it was the first continent to have neo-
liberalism imposed on it, beginning with the coup in Chile on 11 September 1973. It is
heartening that the mass of people on whom the neo-liberal experiment has been tried have
rejected it, and we can draw some lessons from that as we face the current economic crisis. I
will avoid the temptation to praise the 50 years of the Cuban revolution and to be slightly
critical of our policy in Columbia, because—surprise, surprise—I want to deal mainly with the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Venezuela is a pretty inoffensive country; indeed, the only
two facts that I knew about it before I became involved were that it quite often won the Miss
World competition and that it never qualified for the World cup. However, I have now dug a bit
deeper, and it was a question to our former Prime Minister that got me really interested in

As I said, Venezuela is a pretty inoffensive country. We have never been at war with it; in fact,
Venezuelans feel historical connections with Britain because of our support for them in the
war of independence and because Bolivar lived in London for a time. However, if I were a
Venezuelan—certainly a supporter of the majority—I would be slightly uneasy about the
British Government‟s stance towards Venezuela in the past few years.

Let me begin with former Prime Minister Blair‟s reply to my question. He said:

        “It is rather important that the Government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be
        respected members of the international community, they should abide by the rules of
        the international community.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 873.]

There was no substantiation of those comments, which were not well received in Venezuela.
In addition, a Foreign Office Minister was—how can I put this diplomatically?—ambivalent
about the coup in Venezuela. I will push it no further than that. We then have the dodgy
statistics. Another previous Foreign Office Minister—the Minister‟s predecessor—used a
series of statistics from something called Transparency International in Venezuela to
substantiate claims of corruption there. Unfortunately, some of the personnel who staffed
Transparency International in Venezuela took part in the coup against Chavez. The
organisation is hardly independent, and I urge Ministers to stop using such dodgy statistics.
It is important to address some of the misinformation that the international and British media
have perpetuated about Chavez and the process of change in Venezuela. It is worth knowing
that there were no halcyon days of neo-liberalism, when private companies were rampant
across Latin America. Venezuela tried the neo-liberal model, but it led to deep inequality and
poverty, despite the country‟s vast potential wealth. I have checked the figures, and more
than 50 per cent. of the population lived in poverty, with 20 per cent. in extreme poverty. One
in five children suffered from malnutrition. In 1995—before Chavez—the figures peaked, with
75 per cent. of the population living in poverty. The experiment with neo-liberalism and free-
market capitalism was not a success, which explains the victory of Chavez in the late 1990s.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend quoted the previous Prime Minister‟s reply to his question, but
he has raised questions about the weakness of neo-liberalism much more recently with the
current Prime Minister. When he did so, was he disappointed by the barracking and chanting
from members of Her Majesty‟s official Opposition, who are clearly unreconstructed disciples
of neo-liberalism and just keeping their heads down for the moment?

Colin Burgon: No, I believe in the class struggle, so if my opponents shout at me and carry
on, I see it as part of that struggle. I have no problem with that—

Mark Pritchard: We never said a thing.

Colin Burgon: I will not respond to that.

There are some other things that I need to put on the record. For ordinary Venezuelans,
progress under Chavez has been quite impressive. More than 2.5 million people have been
lifted out of poverty. Even though oil prices were high at the time, the former Governments did
not attack poverty in any way whatever.

Thanks to the Barrio Adentro service, millions of Venezuelans who did not have access to any
kind of health service now have access to doctors for the first time in their lives. As a result—
this is just one statistic—there has been a massive decrease in infant mortality. Another
important point—hon. Members who went to Bolivia will realise the importance of this—is that
6 million Venezuelans have been given access to clean water since Chavez came to power.
Educational programmes have also drawn millions of people into schools and universities,
which did not happen before.

I am pleased to say that the minimum wage in Venezuela is the highest in Latin America, at
about $370. An additional 900,000 Venezuelans are now entitled to a pension and to social
security benefits, which are set at the same level as the minimum wage. One of the big
battles that Chavez faces is with media. The international and domestic media are incredibly
hostile to him, but I want to deal with the British press, because that is what we are more
concerned with. Mark Twain said that if

        “you don‟t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper,
        you are misinformed”,

and that is certainly the case with the British press. In the lead-up to the recent Venezuelan
elections, an editorial in The Guardian claimed that Venezuela had an “authoritarian
government”. The Independent falsely claimed that Chavez

        “is threatening to jail a popular opposition leader”.

The Daily Telegraph explained support for Chavez by claiming—this is a really good one—
        “thousands of poverty stricken „supporters‟ have allegedly been bribed with alcohol
        and cash”.

The Times quoted Chavez‟s ex-partner, Marisabel Rodriguez—a candidate for the
Opposition—as saying:

        “If he is not a dictator, at least he seems it”,

which is a really penetrating analysis.

Worse, however, is the role of what we would class as the liberal press. The Guardian has
spent money keeping correspondent Rory Carroll in Caracas. He had a full-page article
extolling the virtues of Chavez‟s ex-wife, Marisabel Rodriguez, but she finished up with 1.7
per cent. of the vote in the election. The statement that the British press is unbalanced can
therefore be substantiated.

On international trade, the Government can and should improve our relations with Venezuela.
Countries such as France, Spain and Portugal have certainly taken the opportunity to sign
deals with Venezuela. I am conscious of the time and of the need for the Minister to reply.
What I am really asking for is a cool, dispassionate acknowledgment of the great social
progress that has been made in Venezuela, which is substantiated by some of the facts that I
have given. I ask the Minister to make sure that we do not engage in, or succumb to, the kind
of misinformation that we have experienced over the past few years. Instead, we should build
a constructive and open dialogue with the people of Venezuela and their leader, Hugo

10.29 am

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Islington,
North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing the debate. One and a half hours seems a short time in
which to cover thoroughly the many issues affecting a huge continent, but it is good that in
this short debate we have been able to raise many aspects of the things that affect the
continent and the UK‟s relations with it.

The debate is particularly important because in foreign policy terms it is often easy to overlook
a region such as Latin America when the daily news headlines are about the latest crisis
between Israel and Palestine and the middle east, continuing threats concerning Iran and its
potential nuclear capability, geopolitical changes involving Russia and China, and our military
action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often Latin America is not at the top of the agenda, which is
why it is important that Parliament should find the time to discuss the issues. I was, like other
hon. Members, particularly intrigued to hear from the hon. Member for Islington, North
because of his more than a quarter of a century of interest in the issue, and the fact that he
has great knowledge and expertise, having made many visits to Latin America. It was
fascinating as well to hear about the recent parliamentary delegation to Bolivia. I feel that
when one has visited a place there is additional authenticity when one talks about it, so it has
been particularly interesting to hear those views.

Why should Latin America matter to the UK? We have heard a host of reasons, such as
climate change and the environment. Apparently more than 20 per cent. of the world‟s oxygen
is produced by the Amazon rain forest, which is sometimes described as the lungs of the
earth. Deforestation is a big and pressing issue and it accounts for a large percentage of the
world‟s carbon dioxide emissions. It will grow in importance in the coming years. Indeed, Latin
America‟s global influence is growing. Brazil, in particular, looks as if it will become a regional
superpower. That will lead, no doubt, to discussions in other international bodies. There is
already, and has been for years, much discussion about Security Council representation at
the UN, and which countries should be entitled to permanent seats. The UK will have to be
involved in the relevant negotiations. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard)
highlighted the political consequences of closing UK missions in Latin American countries,
given that the area will grow in global importance.

Other reasons why Latin America matters to us are the drugs trade—most of the cocaine that
ends up in the streets of Britain comes from Latin America—and poverty and human rights:
problems which, even though they are on the other side of the world and not on our doorstep,
should concern all parliamentarians.

David Taylor: Would the hon. Lady include in her reference to human rights the position of
women in Latin America, and specifically in Guatemala? I secured a debate on that some
time ago, and have asked questions about it more recently. Women in Guatemala are subject
to horrific levels of domestic and street violence, rape and murder, and more needs to be
done by countries such as ours to promote human rights, particularly for indigenous women,
and to help them get access to the Guatemalan system of justice. The position of women
there is bleak and dire.

Jo Swinson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is interesting to hear what he
says about Guatemala, which I confess is a country I do not know a huge amount about. It is
unfortunate that often in countries where human rights abuses are rife, women suffer the
brunt of them. It is certainly important that our Government should do all they can to
encourage the promotion of human rights in Guatemala and other countries.

I want to go into more detail about climate change and deforestation. It is staggering to think
that nearly 50 per cent. of Latin America—45.9 per cent, to be exact—is forest. That is a
higher proportion than occurs in any other region of the world, and, as I mentioned, 20 to 25
per cent. of global carbon emissions come from deforestation there. One might think that
avoiding deforestation should be a quick win. It would not require a massive change in
technology. However, it is proving very difficult.

I am a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, which is conducting an inquiry on
deforestation. We recently visited the Congo basin in Cameroon, which is of course on a
different continent from the one we are discussing, but gives rise to similar issues. It is difficult
for the world community to get the right balance between managing to avoid deforestation
while maintaining the rights of local indigenous people who live in the forest. We are not yet
anywhere near a robust payment system for the avoidance of deforestation. Brazil announced
plans a couple of months ago to reduce deforestation by 70 per cent. in the next 10 years, but
that target is not necessarily as high as is needed. Greenpeace Brazil has been critical of it in
relation to the level of change that is needed. Indeed, although deforestation had been
decreasing in the four previous years, last year it was on the rise again.

Biofuels present another environmental issue. There can be advantages to them in reducing
deforestation—Brazil produces a huge amount of sugar cane ethanol, which can be a quite
good, sustainable biofuel—but when land, and particularly forests, are cleared to grow biofuel
crops any environmental benefit is lost. That is why the Environmental Audit Committee, in a
report on the issue, called for the Government to halt the rush towards increasing biofuel
targets in Europe. The sustainability guarantees were not in place.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Lady may know that one of the problems is that the growth in
maize-based ethanol has forced up the price of maize, and thus tortillas, which are the only
sustainable form of food for many poor people, particularly in central America. Essentially,
those people are starving to feed American gas guzzlers.

Jo Swinson: Indeed; the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The UN special
rapporteur on the right to food called the growth in biofuels “a crime against humanity”, which
is pretty strong and stark language but certainly highlights the scale of the problem. There are
many unintended consequences from the production of biofuels, although it may be pursued
with good intentions. We need sustainability guarantees, and fortunately there have been
recent moves by the Government to establish those.
The cocaine trade in the UK is estimated to be worth about £6.6 billion. Much of that comes
from Latin America and in particular Colombia. There are British Government efforts to reduce
drug trafficking, of course. I had the advantage last summer, while I was in Cuba, of meeting
some Navy officials from our ship Wave Ruler, which is one of the British vessels that patrol in
the Latin America region. As well as providing assistance when hurricanes strike, it has a
counter-narcotics remit. Those officials were engaged in an interesting conference with
Jamaican colleagues about successful strategies.

I note that some good work is happening, but I hope that the Government will recognise that
we must fight a continuing battle. While we tackle demand on the streets in the UK we must
also tackle the supply side from Latin America. I am sure many hon. Members will have seen
the information campaign “Frank” on the television, and it is certainly welcome. However, as
well as highlighting the social and health problems of cocaine use, it is important to get across
the message about the darker side of funding the trade, such as terrorism, kidnapping and

Hon. Members made some interesting contributions about economic development in Latin
America—particularly about improved quality of life in Venezuela, such as better water
supply, and a narrowing of the equality gap. However, there is still huge inequality in Latin
America. In Brazil the richest 10 per cent. earn 44.8 per cent. of the income, and the poorest
10 per cent. earn just 0.9 per cent. There is a huge equality gap. Many Latin American
countries are seen as being in the middle income tier, but that masks the huge poverty that
exists there. There is thus still a role for the Department for International Development, and
the Minister has a background in that Department to bring to her consideration of the issue.

Finally, on the issue of human rights, the hon. Members for Islington, North and for Hackney,
North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made an important point: we may or may not agree
with the ideological standpoint of Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales; none the less, their very
election, as members of the indigenous population of their countries, is a great step forward.
There are still many human rights challenges in Latin America, and in the context of the
support that we give to the Colombian military, in particular, I should like the Government to
do more. A recent report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs found that there was
widespread and systematic killing of civilians. If we are supporting the training of the
Colombian military—if that is what is going on—it needs to be rethought, because there
seems not to be an appropriate guarantee that those human rights are being protected. That
is one area where we clearly have a little leverage when calling for an improvement in human
rights there.

I visited Cuba last year. Given the change of Administration in the United States, I hope that
there is cause for optimism in Cuba. I was there before Obama had been elected, but I found
a huge amount of optimism in the country. The Cuban people want good relations with the
rest of the world. I believe that the internet could be a great leveller in Cuba, because
although the country has tried to segregate Cuban and non-Cuban—whether through finance,
with a different currency, of through where people are allowed to go—ultimately they cannot
keep the Cuban population away from the outside world. The Cubans will eventually find out
what they have been missing. It has been predicted for a long time that change will come.

Colin Burgon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jo Swinson: I am sorry, but I have to finish in order to give other speakers the chance to sum
up for their parties.

I believe that there is cause for optimism, as all Members have said, and I hope that it will not
be long we revisit the issue.

10.41 am
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North
(Jeremy Corbyn) on securing this debate. He has long championed the cause of Parliament
taking a greater interest than we tend to do in the affairs of this region. I share his regret that
we rarely have the opportunity to debate a part of the world whose economy, and whose
importance in environmental matters and in efforts to alleviate the impact of climate change,
will be of increasing importance as the century progresses.

I enjoyed the other speeches made this morning, particularly that of the hon. Member for
Elmet (Colin Burgon). Indeed, I was waiting for the cry, “La luta continua”, at the end of his
speech. I was left with the clear impression that, metaphorically at least, he has a copy of the
Athena poster of Che Guevara still blu-tacked to his bedroom wall, and that even now he is
probably searching to identify who within the current Labour party leadership is the new
Chavez, Ortega or perhaps Eva Peron, and thus able to take over the leadership of his party
and take it in a direction that would be more to his taste.

I do not have time to dwell on more than a few of the important matters that define relations
between the United Kingdom and the various countries of Latin America, but may I begin by
expressing agreement with the hon. Member for Islington, North and my hon. Friend the
Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) about the reduction in British representation in that
part of the world? I have long argued that Britain should give a higher priority to our relations
with the countries of the middle east, but the overall economy of Latin America compared with
that of middle eastern countries shows that Latin America is the emerging giant of the 21st
century. However, we have no posts in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama,
Paraguay or Surinam; in other countries—for example, in Uruguay—there is still British
representation, but it has been cut to a minimal level. That does not go unnoticed by the
Governments or the industrial and commercial leaders of those countries. As a result, we are
missing out on opportunities for trade and for increased co-operation in action against
narcotics, climate change and conservation measures, which were alluded to by my hon.
Friend the Member for The Wrekin.

We also have wonderful historic ties with that part of the world. When one dips into the history
of Latin America, one can find the graves of British soldiers on every battlefield of the wars of
liberation. To this day, there are strong ties of affection and friendship between our country
and every part of Latin America. For example, although our political relationship with
Venezuela has been difficult in recent years, I was delighted to read that Gustavo Dudamel
and the Simon Bolivar youth orchestra of Venezuela will be taking up a temporary residency
on the south bank later this year. That will be a truly exciting cultural event for London and the
United Kingdom. I hope that, in a small way, that will help improve mutual understanding and
achieve better relations between the two countries. In the context of bilateral relations, on
behalf of my party I welcome the forthcoming state visit by the President of Mexico. I hope
that that visit and the attendance of the leaders of Argentina and Brazil at the forthcoming
G20 summit in London will provide an opportunity to strengthen those relationships.

I turn to the prospects for improved trade between the European Union and the countries of
Latin America. Three sets of negotiations are in progress at the moment. One is between the
EU and Mercosur, another is with the countries of central America, and the third is with the
Andean community. The Mercosur negotiations have been on ice since 2004. There are signs
that Argentina is moving towards a compromise over some of the outstanding Doha-round
issues. Does the Minister believe that there is a prospect of putting new life into the EU-
Mercosur negotiations? Will she say whether the Falkland Islands‟ economic ties to the
continent of south America are likely to be a continuing problem in the negotiations?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as he has so little time.
Does he not agree that the EU-south American ministerial meeting in May this year in Prague
will be an ideal opportunity to make progress on that front? Will he press the Minister to say
what progress can be made, particularly in the Doha round, which will benefit
disproportionately some of the poorer countries of south America?
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a strong point, and I hope that if the Minister does not
have time to reply in detail she will write to Members.

I turn to the negotiations with central America and the Andean countries. Lady Ashton, the
trade commissioner in Brussels, has said that she hopes for a successful conclusion to both
sets of talks this year. Do the Government consider that to be an attainable timetable? In the
context of the two sets of negotiations, how are the Government addressing the concerns
expressed by some of the African, Caribbean and Pacific counties, particularly Guyana, about
the impact of a wider free trade agreement between Europe and the Latin American nations
on the protected access enjoyed by the countries of the Caribbean, particularly for their
bananas, sugar and rum? Exports from those small, vulnerable Caribbean economies are of
enormous importance to the Commonwealth nations, and the Minister needs to make it clear
where the Government stand.

Narcotics are still a huge problem. There is no doubt that smugglers and traffickers are
extremely well organised and are willing to use ruthless violence to defend their interests, and
their tentacles spread across the Atlantic. Indeed, reports in today‟s press suggest that
yesterday‟s assassination of the President of Guinea-Bissau may be linked to the narcotics
trade between south America and west Africa. We know that the Government are putting a lot
of work into assisting the Colombian authorities to combat drug trafficking.

Will the Minister say whether the Government and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are
making efforts to reach out to the Government of Venezuela; and, if so, what response they
have had from the Venezuelan authorities? A report in The Daily Telegraph in June last year
cited senior British drug officials as saying that more than half of all cocaine reaching the
United Kingdom came via Venezuela, which was often used as a transit point before the
drugs went on to west Africa and then Europe. Is that the Government‟s assessment of how
that trade is carried on, and if so, what representations are they making to President Chavez
about action that surely is in the interests of both our countries?

Finally, I urge the Government to continue to take the issue of human rights seriously; to urge
serious reform upon Cuba; to stick to their guns when standing up to electoral malpractice, as
in Nicaragua; to congratulate and work with countries that challenge the culture of impunity,
as Argentina has begun to do in recent years, and to speak robustly to friendly countries,
such as Colombia, which has been struggling to exist as a democratic nation against an
utterly ruthless, well-organised and drug-financed terrorist group. Having said that, however, it
is undoubtedly true that real issues remain around the persecution of trades unionists and
human rights defenders in that country. Sometimes, the promises and good will expressed by
the Colombian Government are not translated into practical effect in improved human rights at
grass-roots level. I hope that the Minister will continue to give those issues a high priority in
the formulation of Government policy.

10.51 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Gillian Merron): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy
Corbyn) on securing today‟s debate, which provides hon. Members with a welcome
opportunity to discuss the UK‟s relationship with Latin American countries and the importance
of the region as a whole. In the short time available to me, I shall concentrate on some of the
main headlines, but I am more than happy to write to, or meet, hon. Members to discuss the
matters raised.

A strong Latin America is in everyone‟s interests—both the millions who live there and the
people of Britain. The Government regard our relationship with the region as important, not
least because of its contribution, which we want to see as a positive one, to the many global
challenges that we share, and which we have heard about today, such as sustainable
development, climate change, international crime, including the supply of drugs, respect for
human rights and poverty and inequality. We are working closely with the region as we tackle
those shared challenges. The visit by the Inter-Parliamentary Union to Bolivia unearthed
some of the excellent work being done. For example, 35 royal, ministerial, senior official and
parliamentary visits have been made to and from the region since the start of 2008. That is
evidence of the interest that we take in the region.

My hon. Friend raised some questions about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‟s
strategy paper, “Latin America 2020”, which sought to demonstrate why Latin America
matters to the UK and the world. The issues that it discussed remain relevant. However, since
the strategy was issued, we have developed a whole new approach, which provides greater
clarity on our global role and how we follow through our strategic priorities. Many of those
priorities are relevant to Latin America: for example, the prevention and resolution of conflict;
the promotion of a low-carbon, high-growth global economy; the development of effective
international institutions; and building respect for good governance and human rights, for
which hon. Members rightly asked. Our essential goals apply across the Latin American
region and help to support the British economy, British nationals abroad and managed
migration for Britain.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Of the 20 generally recognised Latin American countries, the UK runs a
balance-of-trade deficit with 11. Does the Minister agree that the scope for greater trade with
south America is huge? What extra efforts can the Government make in that respect?

Gillian Merron: I would certainly agree. My visit to Brazil showed me those great
opportunities to which hon. Members have referred. All our posts in the region have very clear
business plans. Cross-Whitehall mechanisms exist, especially for our Brazil and Mexico
strategies, but we can do more, and UK Trade & Investment plays a big role in that.

We are very engaged with Bolivia, and I am pleased that the delegation got so much out of its
visit. I look forward to meeting its members to discuss in more detail their views and perhaps
how we can move forward. We are fully supportive of the democratically elected Bolivian
Government, but as hon. Members saw, fundamental political differences remain between
factions in Bolivia, which poses many challenges. It is important for the country‟s future that
their Government and Opposition continue to be in dialogue, and I am glad that the
referendum was carried out well and peacefully. I thank hon. Friends for their generous
comments about the role played by our ambassador in the process of national dialogue; he
remains available if asked to act as an international facilitator. My hon. Friend the Member for
Elmet (Colin Burgon) raised the issue of Venezuela; as he knows, we value our relations with
that country.

Ms Abbott: Before we leave the subject of Bolivia, will the Minister pass on to Home Office
Ministers the concern that we heard in all quarters in Bolivia about the introduction of a visa
regime for that country? There is a feeling that not enough consultation has been carried out,
and there is great unhappiness.

Gillian Merron: I am happy to draw my hon. Friend‟s comments to the attention of the Home
Office, but there was considerable discussion of the visa waiver test. On Venezuela, many
discussions were held on how we can ensure that countries fulfil their obligations and that we
are satisfied that the right level of visa security is applied. I am sure that my hon. Friend the
Member for Elmet could apprise her of all that.

I want to emphasise, as I have done before, how much we welcome President Chavez‟s
emphasis on policies to help the poorest and most vulnerable people. We engage with the
Administration on the many social justice initiatives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet
will be aware. We have also tackled drug trafficking and corruption; have promoted and
protected British business; and we look after Britons in need of consular access. We work
very closely, and will continue to do so, with the Venezuelan authorities. He also asked about
information and misinformation. I shall continue to draw information from a broad range of
sources, including non-governmental organisations and hon. Members.
I would like to address a few key points about Foreign Office post closures. Posts in the
region have indeed been closed—Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Paraguay—but
there have been no closures since 2005. Those closures followed the publication of the
December 2003 White Paper, when the FCO needed to undertake a review of our overseas
network, as I am sure that hon. Members realise, to ensure that we used our resources to
best effect. I was interested in Opposition Members‟ comments on post closures, and I am
sure that they will want to clarify whether they will pursue that spending commitment, should
they ever be in a position to do so.

We have appointed British consuls in each of countries where posts were closed to ensure
continued consular cover. I do not feel that we suffer compared with EU missions; we have
only a slightly smaller number than comparable countries. Perhaps I can clarify for the benefit
of the hon. Member for Panama City—the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown)—
that we still have an embassy there. We continue to use new and flexible ways of providing
the necessary services to develop regional networks, and at the core of that work is our aim
to ensure that our relationships with the region remain close and productive. Tackling poverty
and inequality is crucial to the work of the Department for International Development. Our
DFID Latin American spend has increased, and the new approach has been widely welcomed
by the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Oxfam and other NGOs.

This has been a useful debate. I have been unable to refer to many issues, but I am glad to
reassure all hon. Members that we regard our relationship with Latin America as crucial and
developing, and I look forward to working with them in pursuing our objectives.