Monday, 13 February 2017

Restrengthening the Irish-Latino links

For a small country without a history of conquest, the Irish do certainly get around. Of course the chief reason most left and still leave the island was and is for economic reasons. Ireland has only ever been able to sustain a certain number; whether it could or should be able for a greater population doesn't concern us here for now.

Understandably enough, other English-speaking countries such as Britain, Canada, the USA and Australia are the popular go-to locations. Yet, 'Paddy' doesn't limit himself to just those places; it seems there aren't many spots on the globe where he hasn't set foot.

President Higgins: "Ireland a bridge to Europe for Colombians." Um, there are easier routes at present ...
President Michael D. Higgins arrives in Colombia.
In terms of Latin America, the Irish links here are relatively strong, as we've written about on previous occasions (see With O'Leary in Bogotá and Remembering Casement's Colombian connection). What's more, it has been said that the Irish are (or at least were) the Latinos of Europe, be that good, bad or indifferent (somewhat disorganised, left-leaning, former colonies with a happy-go-lucky disposition, something along those lines).

However, it could be argued, anecdotally if in no other way, that these ties have weakened somewhat. Or at least the Irish blood hasn't been as prominent in Latin affairs as it was previously.

Thus, President Michael D. Higgins' historic state visits to Colombia, Cuba and Peru are an opportunity to restrengthen those links.

For one, during his stay in Peru it was announced that Lima is to open an embassy in Ireland (no word on Dublin returning the 'favour', though).

Here in Colombia, where official relations between the two countries have been almost non-existent through the years,(*footnote) foreign minister María Ángela Holguín will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Ireland to foster political consultation between both states. According to an official statement from the Colombian president's office, this memorandum will act as a declaration to set in motion a cultural and sporting exchange as a way to contribute to social cohesion and to consolidate peace. It sounds like a good idea, in theory anyway.

Alongside this, both Michael D. and his counterpart Juan Manuel Santos are to discuss potential investment opportunities, as well as business and tourism promotion. As part of the latter, perhaps the Irish delegation will consider removing the tedious tourist visa requirement for Colombians who want to visit Ireland?

On that front, President Higgins spoke about Ireland being "a bridge to Europe for Colombians", during his keynote address in Bogotá on Monday. Eh, Colombians can rightly question, why bother to attempt to cross a dodgy 'bridge' when there's an easier direct route?

We can also ask the question, bearing in mind Colombia's strategic location and the fact that Buenos Aires and Mexico City are the only cities in Latin America where Ireland has embassies, is it time one was opened here?

That aside, expect similar political announcements of greater official cooperation to come from Cuba, where the Irish president finishes up this three-country trip.

It's all diplomatic manoeuvring of course. The success or otherwise of such things depends on the people on the ground; or getting the actual people on the ground as the case may be.

From an investment-in-Colombia perspective, now might be as good a time as ever to strike. For those of us who have called the place home for a while but are still somewhat doubting our futures here, the words of one Irish long-termer are worth noting: 'If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.' Perhaps. This does beg the question, however: 'Do we want to make it here?' It might not be time to run just yet.

*Footnote : Diplomatic relations between Colombia and the Republic of Ireland have only been in place since November 1999.
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