A Changing Paradigm:
Australia- Latin American Relations
A Changing Paradigm: Australia- Latin American Relations Francesco Vicenzi & Peter Casamento

 
Over 200 delegates attended the Dialogue which, over 16 sessions in two days, contemplated ways of evolving the relationship ‘paradigm’ between Australia and Latin America in the fields of diplomacy, technology and innovation, art and architecture, business, mining and resources, and research and education
 

The big advantage Australia has in Latin America is the absence of a negative history in the region. As Chile’s Consul-General in Melbourne, Diego Velasco von Pilgrimm, humorously pointed out during the inaugural Melbourne Latin America Dialogue: "Australians are the cool gringos."

The Consul-General was one of 60 speakers at the Dialogue, held at the University of Melbourne on the 29th and 30th of August, an event which brought together experts from Australia and Latin America to discuss opportunities to strengthen ties between the regions. Over 200 delegates attended the Dialogue which, over 16 sessions in two days, contemplated ways of evolving the relationship 'paradigm' between Australia and Latin America in the fields of diplomacy, technology and innovation, art and architecture, business, mining and resources, and research and education.

Speakers were in agreement that mutual ignorance between Australia and Latin America is an obstacle, but that this can be easily overcome by changing our perceptions of each other. The Latin America of 20 or 30 years ago - the hotbed of economic uncertainty and political instability - is a far cry from the reality of today. With an ever growing middle class and having made it through the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed, the economic transformation of the region has been unprecedented. To use Brazil as an example, 20 years ago 65% of the population was living below the poverty line; today the same percentage makes up the middle class.

The region of Latin American has historically been overlooked by Australia in favour of our northern neighbours in Asia. The Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Latin America, John McCarthy, a diplomat with many years of consular experience across the globe, summarised this as an attitude of "benign neglect." There were calls from parts of the government, business and education sectors to shift some of our focus to this bustling region across the Pacific. The government can act as a catalyst by increasing its diplomatic footprint in Latin America through more official missions and bilateral engagement between leaders.

Many spoke of increased collaboration between Australia and Latin America is through education and research. The consensus was that the youth are the future and face to face engagement is needed if we are to stop thinking in stereotypes. There are currently 30,000 Latin Americans studying in Australia, but there needs to be more balance in this exchange. The government and universities need to encourage more Australians to make the journey to Latin America for higher education and cultural exchange.

The common misconception here in Australia is that Latin America is a distant region. However, it was highlighted that a trip to Latin America can often take half the time than it does to get to Europe. The myth of distance if just one factor deterring Australians. For example, more direct flights between Australian and Latin American cities are needed. H.E. Alberto Fajardo Klappenbach, Uruguay’s Ambassador to Australia, insisted that other bureaucratic barriers, such as Visas, hinder the possibilities of Latin Americans coming to Australia. He cited Working Holiday Visas for Latin Americans as one way of increasing the exchange of people.

As for the home front, Dr Victor Del Río of Red River Strategic Communications, urged the 200,000 strong Latin American community in Australia to "become more visible." They too can play a role in shifting the current 'paradigm' by becoming more involved in society. Politics is one area sadly lacking in representation as the sole MP of Latin American decent in the Victorian Parliament is Telmo Languillar, who also delivered an address to the Dialogue. It is public interest and public engagement in Latin America which will truly help enhance this relationship in the future.

By Sian Moore
Spanish Australia Magazine intern

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