Brookings India hosted a roundtable on 17 April 2015 on “India and Latin America: Unfulfilled Promise?” featuring Ambassador (Retd.) Deepak Bhojwani, the author of Latin America, the Caribbean and India: Promise and Challenge and Professor Varun Sahni from Jawaharlal Nehru University. The session brought together diplomats, academics and young scholars to discuss the challenges that India faces vis-a-vis the Latin American region and the various strategies that could be adopted to improve relations between the two regions.
Despite the colossal size of Latin America and the Caribbean region – both geographically and economically – the region has been neglected by Indian foreign policy circles for decades. The roundtable discussion identified the lack of sufficient consciousness in India about the 33 countries that make up the Latin American and Caribbean region, as the primary reason for New Delhi’s neglect. For instance the region is increasingly and inaccurately generalized as a hotbed of leftist ideology and political instability even though the reality is quite different.
This misperception notwithstanding, there is a burgeoning trade in crude oil, arms and agro-products and many Indian businesses are now setting up offices in Latin America. Similarly, India recorded four visits by national representatives of Latin American countries since the beginning of 2015 alone.
Nevertheless, there has been a lack of a formal Indian strategy aimed at establishing and sustaining relations with the Latin Americana and Caribbean countries. The present relationship that the two share is primarily transactional and conducted on an ad-hoc basis. It could be worthwhile to leverage the solidarity that has existed between India and Latin America on multilateral issues since the early 1960s as members of the global South. Solid relations with these countries can also strengthen India’s stance on issues of global governance. With a large base of agricultural and natural resources, Latin American nations can also provide an ideal solution to India’s energy and food security issues. Thus, it was argued that there was a need to better understand Latin America and carry out a sustained effort to engage with the region.
The discussion highlighted the fact that that the Ministry of External Affairs is presently ill-equipped to structure and implement a formal strategy for the large territory that comprises Latin America and the Caribbean. Assistance from academic institutions, think-tanks and former diplomats with experience and insight into Latin America is essential for promoting discussion and in-depth study of the region. A focused effort must be made to bring together the available resources in order to expand the knowledge base of Latin American culture, history and polity, beyond just language studies. Further, members of the media must be more proactive in reporting news from Latin America. Media attention on the region can shape public perceptions regarding Latin American countries, eventually pressuring the government to forge sustainable ties with the region.
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