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One of Spain's major foreign policy objectives since the advent of democracy has been to increase its influence in Latin America. Spain has a special interest in this area because of historical ties and a common linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage. In the post-Franco years, economic investments and diplomatic initiatives were added to the more nostalgic links between Spain and its former colonies.
Relations between Spain and Latin America have undergone profound transformation since Spain's imperial days. Resentment of Spain as the imperial power continued long after the colonial period, because many Latin Americans blamed Spain for their lack of progress and for their problems with democratization. In the early years of independence, the attitude of most Latin Americans was one of disdain for Spain. This changed, following the Spanish-American War in 1898. The devastating defeat inflicted upon Spain by the United States combined with increased United States interference in Latin America led the two Hispanic areas to draw closer together in the face of a common enemy. Both Spain and Latin America began to re-emphasize their common ties of culture, language, and religion, although trade, diplomatic, and political relations between the two areas remained minimal.
During the 1950s, modernized methods of communications and transportation facilitated closer contacts between Spain and Latin America. Trade increased, and Spain's rapid economic growth in the 1960s and the 1970s enabled the country to approach its relations with Latin America from a position of greater economic strength. A paradoxical foreign policy phenomenon during this period was the refusal of the fiercely anticommunist Franco to break off relations with Fidel Castro Ruz's Marxist Cuba. In this instance, historical ties appeared to take precedence over ideology.
After Franco's death, Spain's transition to a democratic form of government was paralleled by the establishment of various forms of democratic rule in some Latin American countries. The timing of these governmental changes was largely coincidental, although Spain offered its transition process as an example for Latin America to follow.
The democratization process in Spain caused a reorientation of Spanish foreign policy. Under Suarez, Spain pursued a more aggressive foreign policy, which included giving increased attention to Latin America. Both Suarez and King Juan Carlos made official visits to most of the Latin American countries, and Spanish investment in the area increased markedly. When war broke out between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) in the spring of 1982, Spain supported Argentina's claim to the islands, even though the Spanish government opposed the military junta that ruled Argentina at the time.
When the Socialists came to power in 1982, Foreign Minister Fernando Moran asserted that the amount of influence Spain could exert in Europe and on the United States would depend on Spain's maintaining special relationships outside these areas, particularly with Latin America. In keeping with this policy, the Socialist government created a special assistance program for Latin America that had a budget of tens of millions of dollars in 1985.
A particular area of concern for Gonzalez was the intensifying conflict in Central America. Under his leadership, Spain took an active part in the Contadora Group, an association of Latin American republics seeking peaceful solutions to the bloody struggles in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Before becoming prime minister, Gonzalez had been involved in the articulation of the Socialist International's policies toward Latin America and had served as the president of that organization's committee for the support of the Nicaraguan Revolution, which was formed in 1980. Although Gonzalez was sympathetic to the early goals of the Sandinistas, who had seized power in 1979, he later became highly critical of their radical Marxist policies. He favored the more pragmatic approach of Latin America's social democrats.
It became increasingly apparent that the prime minister's moderate views were in marked contrast to the Marxist orientation of his foreign minister. Gonzalez was also less stridently antiAmerican than Moran. Although critical of United States actions in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, the prime minister recognized that the United States had legitimate interests in the area and that it could not be excluded from the negotiating process. These increasingly divergent views between Gonzalez and his foreign minister led to the latter's removal in the summer of 1985.
Moran's successor, Francisco Fernandez Ordonez, followed a more restrained approach--calling for Spain to be the IberianAmerican conscience of Europe--in furthering Spain's active role in Latin America. Spain continued to support efforts for a peaceful resolution to the strife in Central America. In January 1988, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega requested that Spain take part in the verification of the peace process in Central America. Gonzalez accepted the proposal, provided that the other Central American governments were in agreement and that a ceasefire were in effect. The prime minister reiterated his support of the Contadora Group and emphasized that the countries involved had the ultimate responsibility for finding a solution to the conflict. He also called for an end to United States aid for the armed forces fighting against the Sandinista government (Contras) so that the peace plan could be implemented.
Although Spain had again become a significant presence in Latin America in the 1980s, there was no indication that it was on the way to supplanting the United States in the region, or, indeed, that it wanted to assume that role. At the same time, a vital sense of Hispanic commonality between Spain and Latin America appeared likely to continue.
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Source: U.S. Library of Congress