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Active partnership

How is the new German foreign policy in the region shaping up? An interview with Ambassador Bernhard Graf von Waldersee.

Mr. Ambassador, Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle presented the Federal Government’s new Strategy on Latin America and the Caribbean in August 2010. As a result, the region has again moved more strongly into the centre of German foreign policy. What are the reasons for that?

The decision to make Latin America and the Caribbean a priority of German foreign policy was a strategic decision by the federal foreign minister. Cultural ties and a commitment to common values ­allow us to find natural partners in Latin America for shaping globalization. Furthermore, in the fields of business, research and cultural exchange Latin America offers especially good preconditions for interchange and cooperation that benefit both sides.

What characterizes Germany’s relations with the region and what makes the country such an attractive partner?

Individual enterprising Germans looked towards Latin America very early on: the adventurer Hans von Staden, the Dutch governor Moritz von Nassau and the researcher Alexander von Humboldt. The major waves of migration from Germany to Latin America only began at the time of the independence struggles there, roughly 200 years ago. The Germans who then went to Latin America arrived there as workers, as settlers, as founders of industrial companies. They helped to develop these countries, created jobs and contributed to these countries’ prosperity. Today, too, we want to follow that course: we are concerned about sustainable and mutual growth on fair terms.

The Federal Government’s Latin America strategy aims to give the partnership a new quality and to better use the potential of these relations. How will cooperation change in the future?

First, the Federal Government is again paying more attention to Latin America and the Caribbean. Intensifying mutual visits is only one example of this. Second, we are intensively looking for coordination on ­global themes – for example, on climate policy or reform of the United Nations. Third, we are encouraging German industry – above all, small and medium-sized ­enterprises – to take up opportunities offered in Latin America and the Caribbean. Fourth, the form of cooperation is changing as countries’ performance increases: ­scientific-technological cooperation is becoming increasingly important. And fifth, it has become clear to us that the common ground that Germany, Latin America and the Caribbean share should not be taken for granted, but must be actively cultivated.

Latin America and the Caribbean are characterized by great heterogeneity. What new approaches do you envisage in the field of cooperation in order to take greater account of the region’s different political, economic and social characteristics?

The basic principle of the Latin America strategy is very simple: cultivating the common ground in order to work together on that joint foundation with shared responsibility, for mutual benefit, and through increasingly close exchange. Nevertheless, there is a need for differentiation: in some countries, cooperation is characterized by classical development aid, while in others, scientific-technological cooperation is already more important; German industry has a strong presence in some countries, while we need to help create the preconditions for greater economic interchange in others. Cooperation on the protection of universal human rights has to be adapted to the respective situation in almost every country. Fundamentally, the more common values we share with the individual countries, the better the preconditions for successful bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

The Federal Foreign Office is organizing a large Latin America-Caribbean conference in Berlin this autumn. Which themes will it be focusing on?

The planned Latin American and Caribbean conference “Latin America in Transformation” is being organized and carried out in close cooperation between the House of World Cultures, the Ibero-American Institute and the Federal Foreign Office. We aim to make the partnership ­between Germany and Latin America visible and to discuss subjects in Berlin that currently concern people in Latin America and the Caribbean: we wish to exchange views and experiences about subjects ­ranging from urban cultures in the new metropoles, the effects of economic growth, the struggle for the rule of law and a constitutional state to the culture of remembrance. We want to bring together the people who are making a commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean, communicate an up-to-date image to the public and gain impetus for more interchange and additional projects.

What personal links do you have with Latin America and the Caribbean?

I have lived in Brazil and Uruguay for a total of six years and have been able to gain an initial impression of many other countries in the region in numerous journeys ranging from Mexico and Haiti to Chile and Argentina. During that time I have got to know great people in Latin America and made good friends.

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