India’s Future with Latin America

It’s not a secret that, in China’s efforts to expand economic growth and relations, the country is increasingly involved with Latin America. Indeed, to get a sense of China’s presence in the region, one need only look to this past June, when Chinese premier Wen Jibao visited the region and pledged $10 billion in loans to aid development in the region. Nor are these ties sudden or incredibly recent. As I have commented elsewhere, one of the major but overlooked differences between the presidential administrations of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002) and Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva was the latter’s willingness to expand trade with countries outside of the United States and Europe. Yes, both Cardoso and Lula implemented market-friendly policies, but who those policies were with (and for whom) mattered; under Cardoso, the Brazilian economy was far more subject to the whims of the European and US markets than it has been in the last decade. Indeed, in the past decade, Brazil has seen a greater economic stability in no small part due to its diversified trade and decreasing dependence on Europe and the United States, something that particularly paid off when it was the last country to enter recession and the first one to exit from that same recession after the 2008 global financial collapse.

In this context, Brazil specifically and Latin America is looking to further diversify its trading partners. In that context, India is hosting a meeting with representatives of member countries of CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños] in an attempt to strengthen ties between the world’s second most-populous country (and the one Columbus mistakenly thought he encountered more than 500 years ago) and Latin America. With these meetings coming up, Inter-American Dialogue asked a few individuals, “What does the future hold for India-Latin American relations?

While India’s economic presence in the region has grown considerably from $2 billion to $25 billion, Margaret Myers points out that

India lags its neighbor [China] in terms of trade, but also has been slower to engage the region culturally and politically. Cultural, political, military and scientific engagement and cooperation are prominent features of China’s Latin America policy. Though lighter on cultural diplomacy, India’s mix of raw materials and intermediate goods exports to the region is much less threatening to Latin American industrial sectors than Chinese manufactured exports. India also has invested heavily in the region’s manufacturing and services sectors, whereas Chinese investment remains heavily focused on natural resources. India’s smaller economic footprint and its calculated approach to investment have meant less resistance from host governments, interest groups and manufacturers in the region. India now appears committed to expanding its political and institutional ties in Latin America.

In this light, the comparison and contrast in Chinese and Indian relations with Latin America is interesting, and certainly qualifies China’s recent success in the region. I wouldn’t say China is some sort of cultural hegemon in the region, particularly given the strengths of local and national cultures, but it will be worth seeing how countries respond to a growing Chinese presence in the long-run, and India could be an important partner in helping Latin American countries play India and China off another while helping their own domestic economies in the region.

While I do think there are some similarities between India and Latin America in terms of economic development, the status as exporting colonies, and the respective regions’ position in global geopolitics in the 20th century, however, I have to disagree with Jahangir Aziz’s comment that “both India and Latin America went through strong socialistic regimes before economic crises forced them to liberalize.” First, I would suggest that, outside of Cuba, there was never a “strong socialistic regime” in Latin America. Any attempts at even more progressive governments that attempted to address social injustice in their countries faced internal opposition from both the right and left, and were never able to establish a “strong” government (the governments of João Goulart in Brazil from 1961-1964 and of Salvador Allende from 1970-1973 are the notable examples here). Additionally, yes, Latin America did liberalize, but it did so in the 1980s and 1990s, not after “strong socialist” regimes but after strong right-wing authoritarian regimes. In countries like Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, neoliberalism happened under democratically-elected governments that rose to power in the wake of the collapse of military regimes, not in response to “socialistic” governments (strong or weak). Only the neoliberalism of the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile was a response to the economic turmoil (turmoil that the right played no small part in contributing to and exacerbating), and again, even there, Allende was never really on “strong” ground.

That said, there are many areas where Latin America and India could help each other diplomatically, politically, and economically, and it will be worth watching to see what is said at the India-CELAC meeting next week and what will develop between the two regions in the coming years.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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