Opinion

Ibero-America returns to the Foreign Affairs priority agenda

José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain

The new head of Spanish diplomacy chose Ibero-American Day for his first official act, appearing from Madrid in a debate with his colleagues from Colombia, Costa Rica, Portugal and the Dominican Republic, all moderated by the outgoing Ibero-American secretary general, Rebeca Grynspan. 

José Manuel Albares wanted to highlight the event, and for it to be interpreted as a return of the Ibero-American continent as a priority item on the agenda of his Ministry, in which he has re-established the Secretariat of State for Ibero-America and the Caribbean. A gesture accompanied by a promise to work towards greater access to vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic and increased funding for the region.

With a benevolent eye, it must be admitted that Spain is thus taking a first step towards restoring an erratic foreign policy, in which it will have to work long and hard to overcome the damage caused by the ostensible estrangement from Morocco and the United States, the evident lack of weight in the European Union, and, in the same vein, the loss of influence in the natural space of Spain's projection, which is the Latin American continent.

It is true that the solidity of foreign policy is a reflection of the firmness and cohesion that Spain can show in its own domestic policy, and this scenario is not exactly showing signs of strength and conviction. It is unusual, moreover, that a foreign relations policy, which by definition must be a state policy, is not undisputed among the main parties in both the government and the opposition, and has become an unusual bone of contention.

Albares is right to insist that it is no minor trait to call oneself the Ibero-American Community, a diplomatic term that in reality encapsulates the deep ties of a family. This trait has always been one of the few aces that Spain has been able to play on the international stage. It is true that this Community is now going through one of the most delicate moments in its history. Since the first Ibero-American Summit, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, on 19 July 1991, the establishment of democracy with its corresponding attributes has been a constant concern, and in the process of establishing it, the example of Spain's peaceful transition was seen as the best example to follow and imitate. The systematic revision and delegitimisation by Pedro Sánchez's partners of that gigantic transition from dictatorship to democracy, with the consequent longest periods of peace and prosperity in Spain's history, have unfortunately contributed to the fact that many countries in this "Ibero-American family" do not view it positively, and have taken the dubious path of radicalised populism.

A plus beyond economic data

In a world increasingly dominated by material statistics, Ibero-America does not weigh much either. The integration processes that would make it stronger are not advancing at the dizzying pace of the times. There is also the bad example of the stalled ratification of the Mercosur-EU agreement, which, if it continues to wait, could lead to its collapse. 

However, it would not be fair to conclude that the Ibero-American Community does not present a hopeful balance sheet on the occasion of the first thirty years of holding these summits. It is true that the family photos of the last few summits do not show all the heads of state of the 22 countries that make up this area. Nor is the showcase the same now as it was at the first meetings, when all the attention used to be focused on whether or not Fidel Castro would attend, a question that was only cleared up when the others admitted that the Cuban dictator would become the brightest star of the meeting. 

In exchange for such absences, the summits have become more technical, achieving small but solid agreements that have led to the consolidation of a true Ibero-American culture, social protection agreements aimed at universalising social protection and the creation of an indigenous regional cooperation fund. These are undoubtedly small advances, but they enable the Ibero-American family to display a peculiar and indigenous multilateralism of south-south cooperation such as has not existed in any other latitude.

In a spirit of minimisation, there has also been a desire to contrast the languor of recent summits with the take-off of the other summit, that of the Americas, in which the US president is in the driver's seat. Obviously, the issues and interests have very different nuances. This is attested to by the millions of dramas experienced by Ibero-American migrants to the giant of the northern hemisphere. This relationship, based exclusively on mutual interest between the two hemispheres, lacks the Ibero-American "family" component, in which, beyond the mutual benefits of the relationship, there are and remain the affections forged in a common history, controversial yes, but which should not be revised exclusively according to the parameters imposed by Anglo-Saxon lobbies. 

If there was one thing they were proud of, it was the dismemberment two hundred years ago of the powerful Spanish viceroyalties into a multitude of nations and flags because it made them easier to control, if not neo-colonise and exploit.

Family quarrels, even if they are ancestral, are settled in a different way than following patterns or fashions of asking forgiveness for exterminations that Spain did not carry out, or apologies for a miscegenation that, despite the mistakes - the same ones suffered by Spaniards on this side of the Atlantic - allowed the birth, growth and expansion of the Ibero-American family. 

It is also a detail, but one that is worth noting: the "Himno de Iberoamérica" has been born, a very successful composition by the musician Lucas Vidal, whose first major performance has been recorded by the Orquesta y Coros de la Comunidad de Madrid (Orchestra and Choirs of the Community of Madrid). A music capable of adapting to the many instruments of the Ibero-American countries (Spanish and Portuguese), it would be important to internalise it as a hymn of such an exclusive Ibero-American Community.

Established in 2019, the Day of Ibero-America in 2021 bequeaths this anthem and a glimmer of hope that Spain will redirect its foreign policy and that the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking continent will once again find a serious elder brother in whom to trust, to ask for advice and help, and to support without shame.

Himno de Iberoamérica: