Since 1989, after the democratic transformation of Poland, the country’s foreign policy goals were significantly redefined – including its policy towards the Latin America. The relations with this region were seen through the prism of economic interests. However, at that time, Poland’s foreign policy goals were focused on NATO membership (achieved in 1999) and European Union accession (achieved in 2004).
As a new EU Member, Poland has been striving to join the club of heavyweight players in the European Union. As a result, there have been few public declarations with detailed policy goals towards the Latin American region. The “Strategy of the Republic of Poland towards Non-European Developing Countries,” published in 2004. The strategy pinpoints “priority partners” such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. Hereby, Poland sought to create a new, valuable platform for EU policy towards the Latin American region.
Over the past decade, political dialogue between Poland and Latin American countries has been characterised by high-level bilateral contact. In 2008 Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Peru and Chile on the occasion of the EU-Latin America Summit in Lima. During the summit, Mr Tusk also met with the Presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. Political-economic consultations have become an important mechanism for Europe to cooperate with most Latin American countries.
Today, Poland maintains deep diplomatic relations with all 33 states in the region, which are managed through eight embassies, located in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, as well as one Consulate General in Curitiba. In return, eleven Latin American countries have embassies in Warsaw: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The global financial crisis, that has erupted in the last decade, has created new conditions for Poland to consolidate its position in South America. As a result, in a document titled “Polish Foreign Policy Priorities for 2012-2016” published by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March 2012, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Peru were listed as priority partners in the region, indicating their potential for cooperation in climate change and energy policy as well as in developing trade and investment relations.
The Polish diaspora (“Polonia”) in the region has always been an important element of the Polish-Latin American relationship. 2 million people of Polish origin live in the region – with the biggest communities living in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. Ethnically Poles have repeatedly held leading positions and taken an active part in the democratic development of Latin American States. Among them were: Venezuelan opposition leader – Enrique Capriles Radonski; Elena Poniatowska – the last laureate of the Cervantes Literary Prize; two Supreme Court judges – Ricardo Lewandowski, Teori Zavascki and others.
In the case of political relations and in terms of economic cooperation, some Latin American countries are more attractive to Poland than others. Given its large domestic market and economy, Brazil is an appealing export destination. Mexico, which already imports a very diverse range of Polish goods, is another. Chile’s liberal and business-friendly market also makes it an attractive partner for Polish exporters
Also, Latin America and Caribbean countries have a marginal place in the Polish cultural policy. As a result of this limited activity, the MFA’s Department of Public and Cultural Diplomacy are the most active in terms of enhancing bilateral cultural links. They conduct activities such as the promotion of Polish education and science, art, music, theatre, and sometimes film. They also organise study tours for professionals including journalist and artists – in the last decade representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela have visited Poland in the framework of such tours.
Despite institutional arrangements conducive to tourism – such as agreements on cooperation in tourism (with Mexico and Peru) and visa-free travel (with Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras) – the number of visits is still low.
Despite the improvement in relations – particularly in economic exchange and especially in investment – several challenges still prevent optimal cooperation between Poland and the Latin American region. The first and greatest challenge is the very limited knowledge that each side has of the other. Second, despite the depth and speed of the trade-in-goods in Latin America, some barriers to trade still remain.
Intense political and economic crises, the current epidemic situation, and the other global challenges hinder the development of bilateral relations. Although, expectedly, with the stabilization of situation, the states will move to a new stage of cooperation and will develop a new strategic policy based on past experience.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.