A glance at EU - Latin America relations
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A glance at EU - Latin America relations



Newsletter #1: September-October 2014


This newsletter has been written by APRODEV, CIFCA and GRUPO SUR, European networks based in Brussels with the aim of providing analysis and information on European Union-Latin America relations to all those organisations and individuals working on this subject.
This newsletter will be produced every two months. The next issue will be available in November.

Happy reading!

  • Analysis of EU - Latin America relations
    The new European Union priorities for cooperation with Latin America and Central America: deepening the focus on ‘economic growth’.
  • Contextual information
    10 years of the European Guidelines on human rights defenders: some progress but a long way to go.
  • Interviews
    Lorena Cabnal, from the Association of Indigenous Women of the Mountain Xalapán Xincas Association (Asociación de Mujeres Indígenas Xincas de la Montaña Xalapán),  in Guatemala; Martha Méndez, from the European Commission in Brussels.
  • Events and resources

Analysis of EU - Latin America relations


The new European Union priorities for cooperation with Latin America and Central America: deepening the focus on ‘economic growth’

Credits: Mundubat

Between 2011 and 2014, the European Union undertook a process of discussion and redefinition of its working priorities and budget, both in Europe and in other regions and countries in the world. This process included the definition of ‘new’ strategies for development cooperation with Latin America, which include the definition of priorities for regional, sub-regional (Central America) and bilateral work (with ten countries in the region) for the period between 2014 and 2020.

According to the general EU guidelines to increase the impact of its development cooperation, embodied in the ‘Agenda for Change’, EU cooperation with other countries and regions in the coming years should give prominence to inclusive and sustainable growth and human rights and democracy; focusing on a maximum of three sectors; and using ‘innovative’ instruments such as those that combine grants and loans (blending). Another criterion is the promotion of multi-stakeholder dialogues, in particular with the private sector. A final approach that has already led to changes in development cooperation with the region is the focusing of EU cooperation in the world’s poorest countries and those in conflict situation. As a consequence of this, as Latin America includes both middle income and lower middle income countries, 8 countries in the region have lost their bilateral cooperation with the EU.

Regional cooperation with these countries will still be possible, in the following main sectors: inclusive and sustainable growth; environmental sustainability and vulnerability; the link between security and development; and good governance, accountability and equity. In the case of Central America, whose countries are low and middle-income and where the trade pillar of the Association Agreement with the EU has been provisionally implemented since 2013; the selected sectors for cooperation are: regional economic integration; security and the rule of law and disaster management and climate change.

In budgetary terms, the EU has allocated € 2,500 million Euros for development cooperation with Latin America, for the period comprising 2014-2020 (including bilateral and regional cooperation). This represents 13% of the financial framework for EU geographic cooperation (with Latin America and Asia, South Africa and Cuba) and thematic (human rights, civil society, etc.). Compared to the previous period, 
previous period, where 2,690 million Euros were assigned for Latin America, current figures show a decrease in 3% of the total funds for the region. 

After the definition of priorities and overall amounts for development cooperation, the process of defining concrete EU support to these sectors was begun (via the preparation of multi-annual indicative programmes or MIPs), and the percentage of amounts was allocated to each according to the total budget. Thus, these documents will be translated into regional programs (such as Eurosocial for Latin America) or sub-regional programs, and will define how programs will be implemented and by whom. Although this information is not yet available, comparing the main challenges identified by the EU with those of the previous period (2007-2013), and the broader trends in relations between the two regions, some tentative conclusions are:

- The EU has been ‘consistent’ in translating its general guidelines into development cooperation priorities, placing economic growth at the heart of its cooperation with Latin America, and favouring trade exchanges and agreements, both regional (in the case of Central America) and bilateral (with Peru and Colombia);

- In relation to the above, it is expected that a high percentage of the amounts allocated to Latin America are implemented through the blending mechanisms that combine grants and loans for the implementation of major ‘green’ infrastructure projects - see Report ‘New Strategies for European Union Development Cooperation in Latin America: the LAIF investment facility’;

- In addition, the focus given to issues related to security appears as a high priority. While the link between development and security is raised, it is still unclear what the approach to this priority will be;

- In the case of the priorities for Central America, the main challenges identified do not differ significantly from the previous ones. Thus, the focus has moved away from the priorities identified in previous decades related to governance, democracy and human rights.
Throughout the process of defining the development cooperation priorities, civil society has requested the inclusion of their concerns, particularly those related to human rights violations, violence against women, persecution and the criminalization of human rights defenders and civil society activists. There have also been requests for a more active inclusion of diverse voices from civil society, ensuring more fluid exchange and access to information and transparent process and enabling ideas to be put forward on what would be the best means to implement these priorities in regional and national contexts, as well as identifying the most suitable partners for this implementation. Progress in this area will continue to be monitored.

Contextual information


10 years of the European Guidelines on human rights defenders: some progress but a long way to go

June 2014 marked the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, a practical guide of suggestions directed towards EU organs, institutions and missions in third countries in order to strengthen EU action in relation to the support and protection of human rights defenders and their cause. The Guidelines stipulate specific actions such as regular meetings with embassy staff and human rights defenders, public recognition for their work, trial observations carried out in the courts, visits to defenders held under arrest, the granting of emergency visas, preparation of local strategies for the implementation of the guidelines, in addition to explicit support for regional and international mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.

Throughout the last 10 years specific measures have been taken, including bilateral meetings at the headquarters of the EU Delegations and references to individual cases in private dialogues with local governments, and even physical accompaniment to defenders upon their return after a period of exile[1]. However, two major challenges in Central America and Mexico can still be identified. On the one hand, there continue to be deficiencies in the implementation of the provisions and on the other hand, of equal concern, there is lack of knowledge of the existence of the guidelines among many defenders as well as local organisations dedicated to defending human rights, especially in rural areas or remote places far from capital cities.

To meet these challenges, a workshop was held on June 3 in Guatemala City entitled “How can we take advantage of the EU, Norway and Switzerland Guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders?”, organized by,  among others,  the  Platform  against  Impunity,
Peace Brigades International and Acoguate. Defenders from the North, South, East and West of Guatemala, as well as from Guatemala City itself, participated in this workshop, in preparation for a meeting with Ambassadors held on June 4. These defenders presented the particular problems of each geographical area and the EU [2], Norway and Switzerland Guidelines were discussed, as well as some examples of good practice in the implementation of the former. The defenders then agreed requests that they would make to the Ambassadors at a meeting the next day.

On June 4 (video in spanish), the defenders presented these requests to Ambassadors in Guatemala from the EU, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, UK, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland as well as the representative of the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica and in the presence of the representative of OHCHR in Guatemala. The requests covered the following issues:
  • Awareness-raising on the scope of the guidelines;

Credits: Mundubat
  • A closer dialogue between embassies and defenders;
  • More visits to rural areas;
  • Strengthening of accompaniment to defenders.
In response to these requests, the Ambassadors pledged via their spokesperson, EU Ambassador Stella Zervoudaki, to continue and increase the dialogue. It was further agreed that the Filter Group[3] would carefully analyze the requests and that the Embassies would continue conducting field visits. For his part Swiss Ambassador Jürg Benz, went further urging his European partners to agree on a concrete agenda, decide which cases will be monitored and how to carry out visits, whether individually or jointly.

This meeting opened up a pathway for dialogue and the greater involvement of the European embassies regarding the protection of human rights defenders. This should be made effective so that local civil society, supported by European cooperation agencies, can continue to make demands on their governments and continue their struggle for human rights free from persecution and criminalization because, despite some significant progress, there is still long way to go.

[1] Peace Brigades International.Ten years of the European Guidelines for Defenders of Human Rights (Spanish)

[2] The EU Guidelines on human rights defenders were adopted in June 2004, and subsequently revised at the end of 2008. Following this initiative, the Government of Norway adopted its own guidelines in 2010 followed by Switzerland in December 2013.

[3] The Filter Group is a mechanism for the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, composed of one representative from each EU Member State (usually the Head of Mission / Deputy / Official on Human Rights or Political Affairs). Norway and Switzerland also participate as observer members. The Filter Group focuses on monitoring the situation of human rights defenders, and on examining cases of threats and attacks against them, deciding in each case what steps to take or recommendations on measures to be adopted by the EU Heads of Mission. 



Lorena Cabnal, from the Association of Indigenous Women of the Mountain Xalapán Xincas, in Guatemala; Martha Méndez, from the European Commission in Brussels

Credits: Mundubat

Lorena Cabnal is an indigenous woman, community feminist, co-founder of the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán Jalapa (AMISMAXAJ), a member of the Alliance for Women in the Political Sector, of Mesoamerican Women in Resistance and of the World March of Women.
Marta Méndez is manager of the Governance, Democracy, Gender and Human Rights Program, within the Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights - Directorate General for Development and Cooperation (DEVCO), in the European Commission.
    During the first half of 2014 a Seminar for the Human Rights Focal Points of the European Union Delegations was organized by the European External Action Service (EEAS), in which various organisations met to discuss the challenges that human rights defenders continue to face regarding the implementation of the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders.
10 years after their implementation, the seminar participants analyzed how increasingly, community-based defenders, who defend land and territory rights in the face of economic projects or large-scale investments, some with European capital and in isolated rural areas with little access to EU missions, have increasingly faced legal accusations, threats, harassment and even criminalization and death.
Q: According to your experience, what do you think strategic action to reverse this trend would involve? 
Lorena Cabnal  
A: To reverse this trend would require strict compliance by foreign investment companies in countries like Guatemala, with the European protocols which define the respect and protection of human rights. To date, not a single European investment firm in the extractive industry and other sectors has respected free, prior and informed community consultations, conducted mainly in indigenous and rural communities.

If the community and their ancestral authorities decide to say no to a proposed foreign investment in their territory, Guatemalan law
must be respected, as well as international treaties and conventions regarding the respect and protection of Indigenous Peoples' Rights. This would lead to respect for the European protocols and the present government of Guatemala could not grant mining concession licenses. Likewise, foreign companies could not operate because they would stick to the decision, respecting prior consultation. Equally, there would be no social protest, because the mechanism would be respected according to the law, so there would be conflict or territorial problems.

In this regard it is the joint responsibility of the competent European authorities to ensure that all companies meet the criteria of prior consultation with communities. If this and other internal mechanisms in the country are not observed, these companies should not be endorsed as being respectful of human rights and should withdraw from our country.

Likewise, EU embassy representatives should raise awareness on the Special Protection Guidelines for Human Rights Defenders, in coordination with regional, rural and indigenous organisations in their own languages​​, given that the right to social protest of communities in the defence of their ancestral territory, is leading to a complex situation of criminalization and prosecution.

The Guidelines would then become an important mechanism to enforce the right to defend human rights, and a tool for strengthening democracy.

Martha Méndez:

A: First of all I would like to clarify that the meeting of human rights focal points was directly organized and funded by the EIDHR (Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights). It lasted five days and one of these was spent in meetings with the European External Action Service. The other four days were filled with information and technical workshops on the implementation of the instrument. DEVCO is also the implementation body of the instrument (EIDHR), via a comprehensive centralised and local system of calls for proposals launched by the European Union Delegations in the field (CBSS-Country Based Support Scheme).
The recently adopted new regulation for the EIDHR continues to allow actions to support the initiatives of civil society at all levels to promote respect for human rights, including land tenure, the defence of biodiversity and the decriminalization of defenders of these rights. The next calls for proposals will be designed so that more attention can be given to remote rural areas and strengthening for grassroots organisations. During Autumn 2014 consultation will take place with civil society on the specific work program for 2015 (based on the 2014 – 2020 strategy), and more recommendations will be collected.


  • September 4, Brussels: Constituent meeting of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the countries of Central America and constituent meeting of the European Parliament Delegation to the EuroLat Interparliamentary Assembly.
  • September 19, Brussels: Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) meeting. The DAG of the Association Agreement of Central America is a group of monitoring  of the Association Agreement and involves representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee, NGOs, trade unions and the private sector. Minutes DAG informal meeting 28th May 2014.
  • November 5-8, Panama: Meeting of the EuroLat Interparliamentary Assembly in Panama. This is the second such parliamentary meeting of the year, after the Athens meeting in March, where the new members of the European component and parliamentarians from the Latin American component will gather.


- Video of an event organized by networks in the European Parliament (March 2013): “Aid to the private sector: promoting responsible investment? Latin America as a testing ground?

Human Rights and Democracy: EU Strategic Framework and EU Action Plan

- EuroLat Assembly, March 2014, Athens resolutions Summary: a) Trade in raw materials between the EU and Latin America. b) Femicide in the European Union and Latin America. c) Food security from the perspective of the European Union - Latin America.
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This newsletter has been produced with support from the European Union. Its contents are the authors’ responsibility and do not reflect the views of the European Union.