The European Union in the dispute over Latin America and the Caribbean

Through soft power strategies, positioning itself as an exporter of democracy and human rights, the EU seeks to position itself in regional geopolitics.

The European Union in the dispute over Latin America and the Caribbean
The geopolitics of the European Union. Photo:

Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (EU), made a tour in September in Cuba, Mexico, and Colombia to discuss various issues: trade, investment, cooperation, and the Venezuelan situation.

The visit takes place in an international context in which fears of an economic recession are just around the corner and with a trade war between the two great economic powers: China and the United States (USA). Together with the EU, both are fighting over the markets of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The EU is the region's third trading partner, with 225.4 billion euros of exchange in 2018 and the first investor in LAC, with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) reaching 784.6 billion euros in 2017.

China's growing presence in LAC, which rivals the EU for second place as a trading partner, is displacing the pre-eminence that the US has tended to have in this region. LAC has historically been the place of influence of the US and the EU, sometimes operating together in the construction of hegemony (or imperial occupation) and, at other times, each seeking to set its course.

The current scenario seems to show an EU that seeks to distance itself from Donald Trump, sometimes timidly, as can be seen in the case of Venezuela -generally aligned with the US mandate- and, at times, seeking to generate other alternatives. This attempt to distance oneself from the US, at least in terms of information, has been a constant in European foreign policy. However, it has not always managed to do so.

The European Union's policy guidelines for positioning itself in the region repeat part of the American libretto: cooperation for prosperity, democracy, resilience, and effective governance. Although these pillars have been the ones that the US has historically proposed for the LAC, Trump's government seems to have abandoned, in part, the discourse and some soft power strategies synthesized in the cooperation strategies, betting instead on hard power and confrontation, as the case of Venezuela shows. The EU has managed to displace the US as the main provider of development cooperation in LAC.

Thus, through soft power strategies, positioning itself as an exporter of democracy and human rights, the EU seeks to position itself in regional geopolitics through bilateral channels and also by maintaining multilateral ties: through the network of Association and Trade Agreements, in particular with Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

It works closely with multilateral bodies such as MERCOSUR, the EU-Central America Association Agreement, or periodic interregional summits, first through the Bilateral Strategic Partnership and, subsequently, under the agreements between CELAC and the EU. The EU's progress is clear on the countries that make up the Pacific Alliance.


The Caribbean has historically been conceived by European powers and the U.S. as the key to entry into Latin America and continues to be so. Mogherini said Cuba is a key partner because "it can serve as a bridge between Latin America and the Caribbean countries.

The EU is one of the main trading and investment partners on the island. In 2016 they signed the Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement in which the EU has allocated more than 200 million euros to Cuba, and which they intend to update in four key areas: the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, control over conventional weapons, overcoming unilateral coercive measures, and carrying out the tasks of the 21st century.

About the aforementioned distance from the United States, the Secretary of State for Cooperation and Latin America and the Caribbean of the Government of Spain, Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, expressed the need for the European Union to maintain and defend its approach in its dialogue with Cuba and warned of the dangers posed by the application of the Helms-Burton Act for Spanish and European capital.

Relations with Cuba is one of the main issues on which the EU has tried to distance itself, in recent years, from the line of isolation and harassment proposed by the US towards the island (after the two decades in which the EU's hostile "Common Policy" towards Cuba proposed in 1996 by former Spanish President José María Aznar was in force).


While Mogherini was visiting Mexico, Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera met with Kristalina Georgieva, who will head the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The main topic of discussion was the cooperation project with Central America. The EU contributed 7 million euros to the Integral Development Plan for Mexico and Central America as part of the cooperation for multilateral issues.

In the area of trade, the EU plans to ratify the Global Agreement with Mexico, which contains chapters on rules of origin, trade in goods, sanitary measures, workers' rights, respect for the environment, and industrial property. The chapter on public procurement remains to be closed. In addition, the agreement aims to liberalize the agricultural sector and eliminate tariffs.

Trade between the EU and Mexico represents an export from the EU to Mexico of 38 billion euros in goods and 10 billion euros in services by 2017. In the case of Mexico, exports to the EU are around 24 billion euros in goods and 5 billion euros in services, leaving Mexico with a deficit in its trade balance.


Mogherini's arrival, weeks after a fraction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took up arms again, is intended to ratify the EU's commitment to the Havana Peace Accords. 645 million (US$713.8 million) from the EU.

In terms of trade, the EU is Colombia's second-largest trading partner with 14.7% of foreign trade, behind the US. (26.8%) and ahead of China (12.6%). The FTA with the EU came into force in 2013 and, since then, has deepened the trade deficit and the export of raw materials and commodities. For the EU, this FTA implies the export of industrialized goods and opportunities for its main companies.

One of the topics on the agenda of Mogherini's visit was Venezuelan migration. The EU will contribute 30 million euros to this issue, in addition to the 130 million euros earmarked for the identification of migrants and their social and economic integration. She reiterated her "commitment" to maintain pressure on a peaceful solution for Venezuela.

Since May, the EU has appointed Enrique Iglesias as a special advisor for Venezuela. Iglesias previously served as secretary-general of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (Segib) and was president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which has several infrastructure projects for Venezuela.

Her presence in Colombia included a meeting with representatives of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition, which is part of the Peace Accords. In addition, she met with Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission, and Patricia Linares, President of Special Justice for Peace, as well as Luz Marina Monzón, Director General of the Search Unit.

This also seems to make an important difference to current U.S. foreign policy, which focuses on counter-narcotics plans that insist on re-editing strategies that have proven to be flawed since Plan Colombia was established.

EU Geopolitics

Given the change in the composition of the European Commission that will come into force at the end of this year, Ursula Vonder Meyer, future president of the Commission, declared that she intends her commission to be "more geopolitical" and to act as "guardian of multilateralism", contrary to a contradictory geopolitical scenario that presses towards a kind of atomisation of international relations, maintaining - or not displacing, for the moment - the scheme of multilateral relations. Vonder Meyer states that he will try to focus on key areas such as foreign policy, the fight against climate change, and the digital economy.

Thus, the closeness between the two powers continues to be that of an "antagonistic cooperation" in which the EU embodies imperialism par excellence through consensus (cooperation, democracy, and human rights), which is the gateway or accompaniment to what matters: the promotion of investments and infrastructure projects by European companies, which dispute presence and contracts on the ground with US and Chinese companies.