Coronavirus in Latin America: Implications for Dutch relations with the region

Since 2018, NIMD has been working with organizations from across the Netherlands to bring Latin American affairs into the spotlight.

That’s why, on 4 June, we teamed up with Dutch organizations CNV Internationaal, Impunity Watch and CEDLA to organize the third in our series of debates on Latin America. The aim of this online event was to show Dutch policymakers, politicians and journalists the need for sustained attention to developments in the region.

The event was moderated by NIMD’s Senior Advisor on Strategic Relations, Heleen Schrooyen, who was joined by speakers:

  • Achraf Bouali, Dutch MP
  • Barbara Hogenboom, CEDLA Director
  • Marit Maij ,CNV-International Director
  • Marijke Zewuster, ABN-AMRO Head of Emerging Markets and Commodity Research
  • Joost de Vries, Latin America correspondent for De Volkskrant newspaper.

With a 300-strong audience, including many policymakers, the speakers explored current developments in Latin American countries and started to map out a way forward for Dutch policy on Latin America.

COVID-19 and Latin America

Of course, it was not possible to discuss developments in Latin America without exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is currently threatening recent progress on poverty reduction; the rights of women, workers and indigenous groups; environmental protection; and responsible entrepreneurship.

But more than that… the crisis has deepened and exacerbated existing problems. Inequalities deepen under lockdown, poverty has risen, and some countries have witnessed an abuse of power by their central governments.

Lucía Galarza, CEDLA PhD Student, describes the impact of Coronavirus in her country, Ecuador.

The event provided a glimpse of how this is playing out across the continent, with many examples from the continent’s different countries. Journalist Joost de Vries gave an insight into growing inequalities in Mexico, while others shared examples from Peru and Brazil.

CNV Internationaal Director Marit Maij drew attention to the freedoms that are currently under pressure due to states of emergency in the region. For her, this adds tension to an already fragile situation.

For CEDLA Director, Barbara Hoogenboom, too, the situation should be taken very seriously. She expressed her concern that progress made in poverty reduction in recent decades will be lost.

Sharing this concern, ABN Amro’s Marijke Zewuster showed that an economic contraction of 8% is expected in Latin America. The continent’s already poor economic starting position, and its dependence on the export of raw materials will mean it is hit more severely than other parts of the world.

Jesús Cárdenas Misajel, Secretary General of Fentecamp Trade Union, describes how Coronavirus has deepened inequalities in his country, Peru.

What can the Netherlands do?

During the event, Dutch MP Achraf Bouali highlighted the importance of the work of Dutch organizations in Latin America. He called for the Netherlands to help offer an alternative when it comes to jointly tackling problems on the continent.

Indeed, the Netherlands has close economic and historical ties with Latin America. It is a core trading partner for the region, as its third highest foreign investor. Furthermore, the Netherlands Antilles and Curaçao both sit in close proximity to Latin America, acutely exposing them to developments in the continent. The effects of the crisis in Latin America have profound consequences here in the Netherlands as well.

So how can the Netherlands respond to the deepening crisis? The experts’ recommendations for Dutch politicians were:

  • Continue to support organizations that strengthen human rights, civil society, and democracy
  • Speak out on human rights violations
  • Ensure compliance with guidelines for corporate responsibility and take a critical look at the effects of Dutch policy on other countries
  • Continue your commitment to achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals
  • Support vulnerable groups
  • Be creative and consider making changes towards a green economy, or reducing inequality through different tax systems
  • Invest in sustainable production chain