The foreign ministry for the first time brought non-resident Latin American and Caribbean ambassadors together on Sunday to discuss ways in which their countries and Bangladesh could improve people-to-people contacts, enhance economic cooperation and work together on new global development agendas.
“Geographically, Latin America may be a far away continent, but it is close to our heart,” state minister for foreign affairs Md Shahriar Alam said.
“Bangladesh views Latin America not just as a market for its exports, but as a valued partner with whom its people could share its culture,” he said.
Ecuador Ambassador Mentor Villagomez said the discussion demonstrated “the government’s intent to strengthen relations”.
“I can assure you that it is shared by Latin America. We are ready to do business with Bangladesh. This is the first step and I welcome this opportunity,” he said.
Bangladesh and Latin American countries have shared cultural and emotional ties for long, though Bangladesh has only two missions – in Brazil and Mexico – in the entire region. Brazil is the only Latin American country that has a mission in Dhaka.
The Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore was a major literary figure in South America during his time and many of his works have been translated in Spanish.
His works influenced other literary figures of his age, such as José Ortegay Gassett, a leading Spanish intellectual of the time, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda in Chile and Octavio Paz in Mexico.
Tagore’s friendship with the Argentine writer and intellectual Victoria Ocampo inspired him in displaying his art works to audiences in South America. His visit to Latin America also led to new songs being composed by him.
Literary personalities like Pablo Neruda, Garcia Márquez, Diego Rivera are familiar names even with the new generation of Bengalis.
Footballer Pele, Maradona and Messi are household names in Bangladesh, as the country has very strong support for Argentine and Brazilian football.
“We have commonalities in our aspirations, emotions and values. We also have similar understanding on common global, social and economic crisis,” the state minister said.
The people of Latin America supported Bangladesh in its struggle for independence.
Mexican Ambassador Melba Pria recalled her childhood and said she could still remember those days when her mother was standing with a placard, ‘Free Bangladesh’, in her hand, holding her with the other hand.
“In my lifetime Bangladesh has moved from that ‘free Bangladesh’ to grow to this stage of 15 years of continuous economic growth in a row,” she said while inviting Bangladesh to invest in her country.
“There is a huge potential for engagement with Bangladesh. We are open for business,” she said.
The ambassador- designate of the Dominican Republic, Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, said the major two keys of relations had been achieved. “You invited us all and our countries allowed us”.
Augusto Montiel, ambassador- designate of Venezuela, said he even wanted to come to Bangladesh for New Year celebrations.
He also suggested a Bangladesh-Latin America ‘fair’.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director of CPD, said Bangladesh could seek Latin American partnership in this “crucial time” when the country was transforming itself into a middle-income country.
He said Latin America had a $9.5 trillion GDP in purchasing parity and imported $1.5 trillion.
“It’s a very big economy, higher than India and Japan. But Bangladesh exports only 1.5 percent of its total exports to Latin America and imports only 3.5 percent of the total imports”.
He said those countries can invest in Bangladesh and then export to their own countries and other countries, including the EU, where Bangladesh enjoys duty free market access.
He said the new special economic zone initiative of the government could give them a “window of opportunity”.
The ambassadors of Peru, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Guyana also spoke at the seminar at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).
Bangla Academy published a book of translated Latin literature for the occasion.