HC Deb 09 July 1992 vol 211 cc585-603 11.13 pm
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce the fifth annual debate on relations between this country and Latin America. I know that all the officers of the Latin American committee are also grateful for this opportunity. These rather arcane procedures that see us having debates going through the night at this stage of the term can at least be used to sensible advantage from time to time. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench do not take that as meaning that we are satisfied with these arcane procedures, and I hope that the proposals for change that are before the House will have their blessing, and that we shall find new ways to have debates on vital subjects such as this.

Last year, I said that all hon. Members were distracted by many other developments from the sort of attention that we might profitably give to Latin America. What was true last year has now become even more obvious. As Members of Parliament, we are all concerned with a variety of issues that affect our constituents—including the economic problems of not just this country but the world. When we consider matters relating to the European Community and Maastricht, events in what used to be the Soviet Union, in eastern Europe and, above all, in what used to be Yugoslavia, it does not seem surprising that hon. Members' interest in tensions in Latin America has been less than many of us would wish.

I believe that the Latin Americans, although sensitive to our attitude, also understand it, and may even take comfort from the fact that, whereas in the past we were ready to point a finger at tensions and border disputes in Latin America, those problems are as nothing to the horrors that we on the continent of Europe have generated during the past one or two years. I do not know the Spanish translation of the word "schadenfreude", but whatever it is, that is the way that Latin Americans might be considering that development.

All of us who take an interest in Latin America understand the importance of maintaining and developing Britain's interest in that continent. We recognise that there should be a renewal of the well-known—at least among hon. Members present this evening—historical links that Britain has for so long enjoyed with that continent.

We are at an important juncture because, in the past few weeks, there has been a major development: the visit by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Colombia and Brazil. His visit to Colombia was the first ever visit of a British Prime Minister when in office to a Latin American country. That thought is in itself extraordinary, but at least the precedent has now been established, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that. I understand that his awareness of the countries that he visited and the whole of the sub-continent was alerted. In the wake of that visit, it is time to launch a renewed effort to develop this nation's interests in Latin America. I have every reason to hope that that will happen.

Twenty years ago, when I was a diplomat in Buenos Aires, a special conference on Latin America was organised in Lancaster house. It was a way of focusing the interest of Britain—particularly British business, but also our other cultural, social, academic and political links—on Latin America. I believe that everything that has happened in those 20 years—especially the encouraging developments of recent years—mean that it is now time to launch another conference at the highest, prime ministerial, level.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the creation of Canning house—an institution which is well known to those hon. Members present in the Chamber, and of which we should all be proud. It is a unique focus of the study and development of links with Latin America. It is a small cost burden to the British taxpayer and is greatly supported by private interest. I commend that part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget and hope that that support will continue, even in these straitened times. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Canning house, and that would be an appropriate time to stage a new conference to demonstrate Britain's interest in and commitment to a continent of 450 million people and the commercial, political and economic importance that that implies.

The realisation has dawned that Latin America is no longer a continent of tinpot dictators and banana republics, and it is now understood that democracy has been established. However, it is not quite understood that the democratic Governments in Latin America are still relatively tender and need as much support as possible. That support should be internal, but the more traditional and longer established democracies also have a role to play.

In Latin America, the 1980s were known as the lost decade, when the gross domestic product of almost every Latin American country and its standard of living fell. Those phenomena put great strains on the body politic. Therefore, it is especially remarkable that democracy emerged, but it means that in some Latin American countries the democratic institutions that we all take for granted are thin and embryonic and need much help and understanding from the developed world. I shall devote the rest of my speech to that.

Our media have an unhappy record on extending and improving the understanding of what happens in Latin America. Everyone in political life is familiar with the sad but undoubtedly true platitude that good news is not news and bad news is what is published. That means that only the difficulties and disasters in Latin America form the diet on which we are fed. That is a sad fact, but as politicians we expect to live with it. That does not mean that we should accept or take it for granted. We should complain about it, and I hope that those responsible for reporting on Latin America will take note.

Another even more worrying phenomenon is the extraordinary tendency of those who claim to be the intellectuals or the intelligentsia of western Europe, including the United Kingdom—the chattering classes generally and the media—to light upon every far-out, left-wing organisation that appears on the scene and to invest it with a haloed, sanctified status as the defender of the people of Latin America against a cruel and oppressive dictatorship. That has happened in the past, but much more often than not, and certainly in recent years, that has not been the true picture. [Interruption.] I note the scoffing reaction of the hon. Member on the Labour Front Bench, who represents a Scottish constituency but whose name escapes me. He thinks that this is a laughing matter.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whitney

Certainly, when I have finished my sentence. It is not a laughing matter but a matter of great concern to all of us who value democracy and human rights in Latin America.

Mr. Foulkes

One of these days I shall take the hon. Gentleman around Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley so that he not only knows how to pronounce it but knows more about it. I know that he knows a great deal about Latin America. I was not laughing. I was astonished that he was dismissing so lightly dictatorships such as that of Pinochet in Chile, that of Somoza in Nicaragua and the others under which the people of Latin America have suffered. It was that which was causing us concern. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has a good record of supporting democratic development in Latin America, agrees with us about that.

Mr. Whitney

I am glad that the hon. Member from Scotland was not laughing about the problems of Latin America. Had he been listening carefully, and if he reads the transcript of what I said, he will see that there is no question of my defending the Somoza or Pinochet regimes. Using a little psychiatry or psychology, I would suggest that that was a transference of the hon. Gentleman's own prejudices rather than mine. I think that the hon. Member —or certainly some of his hon. Friends, such as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in whose presence we usually rejoice on such occasions but who, sadly, could not be with us tonight—is a splendid manifestation of what I was talking about. Cuba is a long-standing favourite of such hon. Members. While every other communist, Marxist or Stalinist regime has collapsed in disorder and contumely, Cuba clings on. It has an ever decreasing band of supporters and defenders but some of them are to be found—not tonight, but from time to time—on the Labour Benches.

Napoleon Duarte, a very brave man and a dedicated democratic socialist, struggled against the FLMN in El Salvador. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua were the friends of many on the left and many of the more normal members of the Labour party. They were the darlings of the chattering classes and of the media. It required only one democratically run election for the people of Nicaragua to eject the Sandinistas.

This is the opportunity to draw to the House's attention —and I hope that it will go further—a much more worrying phenomenon: the treatment given by some circles in London and other western European capitals to the extraordinary regime of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru. We know that there are serious difficulties in Peru at the moment. We are studying carefully the action of President Fujimori some months ago, and we appreciate the tensions and pressures, but that does not mean that the terrorism of the Sendero Luminoso can be excused. There is no doubt that the struggles and terrorist tactics of the Sendero Luminoso are adding significantly to Peru's problems.

The Sendero Luminoso was formed by Abimael Guzman in 1980. He rejoiced in the successes of Stalin and said that Mao Tse-tung's only mistake was that he did not go far enough. He has led the terrorist regime which has been responsible for about 30,000 deaths in Peru. Yet some in the media naively accept the claims of this terrorist organisation, Sendero Luminoso. There was an especially depressing example in June when a programme entitled "Condemned to Win" was broadcast as part of the series called "Dispatches". It was a flattering and sympathetic portrayal of a barbarous and bloodthirsty organisation.

An exception to the worrying tendency of so much of the media to accept far-left and bloodthirsty movements was an extremely informative and reliable article written by Caroline Moorehead, which appeared in The Independent magazine of 20 June. She recited several instances of terrorist activities. For example, there was the murder of the deputy mayor of Villa El Salvador on the outskirts of Lima, one Maria Elena Moyano. She was shot and her body was blown up by dynamite. Her two sons, aged 11 and 12, watched over her. There are many such examples, yet The Guardian will carry a letter from a lady who calls herself a representative of the Federation of Democratic Women of Peru, who seemingly rejoices that Maria Elena was executed for a long list of offences.

For a major British television channel to broadcast such a sympathetic portrayal of such a bloodthirsty organisation as Sendero Luminoso is a grave indictment of the British media. Yet again, it increases the problems with which we all wrestle—veracity and responsibility as against the difficulties of censorship. I earnestly hope that we are not moving yet again into a cycle in which certain quarters in London and other west European capitals allow distortions of realities, whether it be Peru now, Nicaragua in the past or whatever Latin American country it will be in future.

We have a duty in the House and outside to ensure that we become increasingly better informed. There are many opportunities to develop our links with the 450 million people of Latin America. We in the United Kingdom must continue to deal with the Falkland Islands, which is a special issue. That means that we must deal with Argentina. We are delighted that relations with Argentina have moved as they have over recent years, but the issue of the Falkland Islands still awaits a solution. The resolution of the problem will be to the interest and benefit of the islanders as well as of the United Kingdom and Argentina.

Beyond that, we in Britain have tremendous economic opportunities. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, will enlarge upon those issues. That being so, I shall not trespass into that territory.

Problems still remain in Latin America, such as debt, population, disparity of wealth and institutional weaknesses, but there have been real achievements. There are challenges for the United Kingdom. I hope that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with his new awareness of the significance of the South American continent, we shall take advantage of the opportunities.

11.34 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I welcome this, the fifth annual summer debate on Britain's relations with Latin America. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on so ably leading the debate. It is a case perhaps of quality rather than quantity of hon. Members.

When the House is concerned with vital matters such as the trouble in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it is important that we do not overlook the quietly developing region of Latin America. It has many qualities.

First, every republic in the region, with the sole exception of Cuba, is run by duly elected presidents. Every republic is practising liberal market economics. They are dismantling the 1950s and 1960s models of import substitution and massive nationalisation, which caused such stunting of their economies. Their enthusiastic adoption of the free market system and the fact that they are now working through the world open trading system give great inspiration, which this House should duly recognise. In particular, those countries are following the example of Chile, which through the adoption of the free market economy has proved that considerable success can be achieved in Latin America.

Latin America is based on a largely European culture and immigration. It has a cadre of business men, lawyers, diplomats and scientists of a world standard, with whom we could easily work. The past year has been a good one for Britain's relations with Latin America. Only last month there was the first visit of a British Prime Minister in office to that continent. My right hon. Friend visited both Colombia and Brazil during the Earth summit. It is not a breach of confidence to say that he was enthused by what he saw. He told the House in his statement on 15 June: The purpose of my visit was to reaffirm our support for Colombian democracy, her market economy and her brave and successful fight against drug trafficking."—[Official Report, 15 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 650.] My right hon. Friend's visit and the renewed interest in Latin America is not a flash in the pan. Last month, The Guardian reported my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary as saying: The British Government decided to make a deliberate and vigorous effort to restore the historical relationship with Latin America. The article states that my right hon. Friend added that both Government and business in Britain were looking with fresh eyes at this region. Much of the credit for the growing interest in Latin America should go to my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-J ones), who was aptly described in the same article in the following terms: A fluent Spanish speaker, he has emanated a clear vision that Britain is missing out on business opportunities. Latin America is under way. Nevertheless, the two great pillars of its resurgence are akin to two young saplings, both fragile but both offering excellent prospects for the future. The first of those saplings is democracy. As I said, all of Latin America, with the exception of Cuba, is now run by elected presidents. However, there are problems. After decades of military rule, many of the Congresses are populated by a combination of grand extinct volcanoes from ancient political dynasties and—disturbingly for us—very young politicians.

Only yesterday, the Speaker of the Panamanian Congress visited this House. He was only3l years of age, which makes some of us feel desperately old. What we have found in the young parliamentarians from Latin America who have visited this House is that many of them offer great hope for the future. Their problem is that they lack so many of the procedures, practices and experiences that we in this House take for granted. But that is precisely where we can be of use and help them.

In particular, I commend the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. For example, a delegation of Paraguayan parliamentarians came here last year and next week we shall have a delegation from Mexico. The Paraguayans were impressed by much of what they saw here. They took a particular interest in the parliamentary ombudsman and have set up exactly such an institution in their own country, based on the British model.

However, democracy in Latin America is susceptible to corruption and disorder, and that has led to the first blemish on the escutcheon of restored Latin American democracy. When President Fujimori, the duly elected president of Peru, recently closed the Peruvian Congress, he said that the aim of his military-backed self-coup on 5 April was to replace Peru's frivolous, inoperative and corrupt democracy by what he termed an authentic one.

With the coaxing and encouragement of many countries, not least our own, President Fujimori has mapped out what he means by an authentic democracy and has laid down a timetable, through a constituent assembly, for a new Congress early next year. The Government must staunchly uphold democracy, but we should admit a touch of sympathy and understanding for President Fujimori's dilemma.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe touched on the kind of problems with which Peru has to cope. President Fujimori and his country suffer from ruthless and merciless terrorists—the Sendero Luminoso. Inspired by Chairman Mao and financed by drug money, they have extended their pitiless activity into the urban area of Lima, the capital, from the peasant areas in the south of the country which they have terrorised for years. Some years ago I travelled in southern Peru and saw some of their activities for myself. Peru therefore has problems in maintaining democracy, and the kind of thing that we saw on television in Britain not so long ago does nothing to help Peru return to and develop a full democracy.

Peru is not alone in having problems maintaining its democracy. There are other rumblings in Latin America. If we do not help in those areas, we shall see a collapse into dictatorship, from which Latin America has only just emerged.

Only this year, the stresses of economic reform have brought an attempted coup in Venezuela and in Brazil there are moves to impeach President Fernando Collor de Mello on corruption charges. President Rodriguez of Paraguay has reacted angrily to his Congress's action to block his standing for re-election.

Yet democracy is taking root in Latin America. Recently—the first time ever, I believe—one elected president has followed another in both Argentina and Peru. Chile too has carried through local elections which have proved that representative democracy is taking root once again in that country as well.

The other of the two saplings in Latin America is the free enterprise, free trade economy. Those of us who have taken an interest in Latin America over the years have been used to decades of protectionist import substitution economic policies in Latin America, with self-serving nationalised industries which have wasted vast resources. We can only marvel at the new approach that we are seeing today. The trade barriers are coming down and with them have come massive opportunities for Britain which we overlook at our peril.

The Government have started some imaginative initiatives to take advantage of those same opportunities. The imaginative Proyecto Venezuela recently carried out a project identifying opportunities for British goods and services in Venezuela and potential British suppliers, bringing them together through well-produced directories so as to build up British trade and investment in Venezuela. I understand that that was a prototype and I hope that it will be followed in an increasing number of countries, not least in Latin America.

International trade, however, is a two-way process. It is praiseworthy that Latin American markets are now open to British exports and investments, but European markets must likewise be open to Latin American exports, especially exports of agricultural products. That is why the continuing efforts of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to obtain a final settlement of the Uruguay round of the GATT is so critically important. If we let Fortress Europe develop to the detriment of the developing world and its exports, we shall destroy the new economic order in Latin America.

We should note what is already happening. We should note the development of the North American free trade area, taking in Mexico. It could play an increasingly protectionist role, opening Mexico to United States exports at the expense of exports from Britain and the rest of Europe.

Furthermore, other Latin American countries are queueing to join because we are not providing the opportunities here. Chile is ready to join;Venezuela considers itself a US strategic partner, because it supplies so much of its oil to the US; Panama also claims to be such a strategic partner, on the ground that it has the Panama canal. And so it goes on. If we do not solve the problem in the near future, we shall see Latin America, in reverse order, carrying out the Monroe doctrine and becoming a supplicant of the United States. That is not in the interests of Europe, or in those of Latin America itself.

Even in the south of the South American continent, countries are turning inwards by linking up through Mercosul, and likewise within the Andean pact. If they turn inwards and exclude their foreign partners, it will be to the detriment of both them and us, as trading partners.

I should like this country to be Latin America's champion in the European Community, which remains one of the principal obstructions to the completion of the GATT round. We in Britain are singularly well equipped for the role. Historically, we were the champions of Latin American independence. In 1826, in this very House, George Canning—then Foreign Secretary—declared that we had brought the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old."—[Official Report, 12 December 1826; Vol. 16, c. 397.] British soldiers and sailors fought alongside Bolivar's army to bring about independence in the north of the continent. Lord Cochrane's ships fought with the Brazilians and the Chileans for their independence. Since then, we have invested and created the railways, the utilities and the industries. We were the co-operators, not the conquerors, of Latin America. We have a continuing fund of good will in that continent—a fund that we are not tapping, but could well tap.

In the context of today's European Community, the interests of the United Kingdom have converged with those of Latin America. We believe in and practise free trade; we oppose the agricultural subsidies on which the countries of southern Europe depend. Spain and Portugal, the metropolitan countries, both rely on subsidies from the European Community and oppose the import of much of Latin America's agricultural produce. Latin America itself knows that we shall fight its corner, and we must press on. The Government must continue their efforts to strengthen Britain as the first port of call for Latin Americans in Europe.

Three practical measures can be undertaken. First, we must further extend the teaching of Spanish, and even Portuguese, in our schools and colleges. Secondly, we must reinforce the work of the British Council, and its offshoot the Cultura Inglesa in Latin America. Their teaching of English—by which I mean English English, not United States English—is invaluable, and traditionally preferred by Latin Americans. Thirdly, we must strengthen Latin American institutions in London. Principal among those is Canning house, the Latin American centre in London. Canning house will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, and I hope that the Government will give thought to the ways in which they may support its proposal for a major conference then, in which some of my right hon. Friends could play a major role in drawing in the captains of British industry to consider opportunities for Britain in Latin America.

We can all see that Latin America is on its way again. There is wind in its sails, and I hope that this country will take a leading role in working with it.

11.50 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I shall start by quoting Lady Thatcher, although I do not often do that —It's a funny old world." Here we all are again. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has again been lucky in the draw, and we must congratulate him on his energy and diligence as well as on his luck. This year our annual Latin America debate is two weeks earlier in the month, and, thankfully, two hours—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)


Mr. Foulkes

I should have said that unfortunately, although it is two weeks earlier in the month, the debate is taking place two hours later in the day. I must get that right, as the Minister has corrected me.

We have much the same cast for the debate as we had last year, although the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), is no doubt pursuing the interests of this country in some far-off Eldorado while we welcome in his stead the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. I am pleased, too, that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) has sat through the whole debate, and shows a keen interest in Latin America.

However, this year we do not hear such delight at the outcome of the G7 as we heard last year about the London G7. The hon. Member for Wycombe praised the outcome last year, and talked about the great opportunity for the completion of the Uruguay round of the GATT talks. A year later we are in the same position as we were then, and the hon. Gentleman is not praising the Munich G7. I quite understand why.

Mr. Whitney

I am puzzled; I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not exulting in the fact that our high hopes of last year have not been realised. Generous as he is, I hope that he will use the opportunity, while dwelling on the present situation of the GATT round and the G7, to pay due tribute to the tremendous efforts of the Prime Minister in the past few days to persuade his colleagues in G7 to make progress on the Uruguay round of GATT.

Mr. Foulkes

I am certainly not exulting, and I shall come to a tribute to the Prime Minister soon, which will surprise the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. I was showing that I had done the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of reading the speech that he made last year, and I noted that his tone and some of his remarks had changed this year. I shall come to a little bit of humility soon, which will also surprise Conservative Members.

There is also, rightly, a little less euphoria this year about the democratic revolution in Latin America. Unfortunately, the causes for euphoria are not as great as they were last year—I shall dwell at some length on that fact. I even detect some slight tempering of last year's claims by some Conservative neo-economists about the miracles that the market economy can deliver everywhere.

Now I come to the humility: one of my predictions last year—that we should be conducting the debate from different Dispatch Boxes this year—has also proved less than inspired. However, I assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that that pleasure has merely been postponed — although I shall not say for how long.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foulkes

I have only just started. Oh, all right.

Mr. Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman forecast whether, if the occupant of the Chair on that occasion is willing, he will be replying to a debate on Latin America next year?

Mr. Foulkes

I have ambitions, although I shall not reveal them now. We have just started the elections to the shadow Cabinet, so this is not the time to talk about such matters.

In passing I should also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who has sat through almost all the debate, and who has long shown a special interest in Latin America.

A debate about British relations with Latin America is even more important now that the conditions are right for those relations to be strengthened, with Britain leading the European Community, as the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) said a few minutes ago. Prevailing democratic trends and the growing economies of much of Latin America provide an opportunity for closer links. While the Prime Minister's visit to Rio was welcome—even if its purpose was the Earth summit and not establishing closer relations with the region —

Mr. Jacques Arnold

My right hon. Friend visited Colombia as well.

Mr. Foulkes

Yes, and I welcome that. He was the first-ever British Prime Minister of any party to set foot on South American soil, and that indicates how little attention the British Government have paid in the past to Latin America. I am glad that is being corrected.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in Mexico two months ago: The British Government have decided to make a deliberate and vigorous effort to restore the historical relationship with Latin America. That serves to remind us that our trade with Latin America remains marginal. As other hon. Members said, only £1 billion of our exports go there.

I am sceptical about Government claims of increasing trade and co-operation with Latin America. The Opposition strongly believe that such links should be strengthened. I know that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with his special knowledge, is keen to see that done, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm that he believes that there are tremendous opportunities for investment and trading co-operation with that region. I hope that he will confirm also that the region's stability, prosperity—with some qualifications, which I shall mention later—and developing democracy provide the opportunities described by Conservative Members.

In last year's debate, we all expressed optimism about the continuation of democracy in Latin America. In retrospect, perhaps we were a little complacent. The succeeding 12 months have underlined that the fight for democracy is a long and continuing struggle. The outlook for democracy in Latin America still gives cause for concern.

Just a short time ago, almost the whole continent was under democratic rule for the first time in its history. I do not share the view taken by the hon. Member for Gravesham. I believe that the picture has clouded. The backward steps of the attempted coups in Venezuela, Haiti, and Peru emphasise how fragile democracy remains in some parts of Latin American. I welcome the establishment recently of the British-Venezuelan Cultural Trust, founded by Marcel Curiel, a prominent Venezuelan business man who provided the initial funds. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) and I have the privilege of being two of its founding trustees. We hope that it will help to establish cultural, educational, and other links between Britain and Venezuela. My earlier remarks emphasised the importance of doing so.

Recent events in Peru also sound ominous warnings for the survival of democracy on that continent. I make it clear to the hon. Member for Wycombe in particular that we hold no brief for Sendero Luminoso—Shining Path. My hon. Friends and I would feel concern at any parallel being drawn between the activities of Sendero Luminoso, which is a terrorist organisation, and the fight by the Sandinistas against a dictatorship in Nicaragua. I regret the unfortunate remark by the hon. Member for Wycombe.

As to Peru, now is the time for the rest of the world to demonstrate that the days of South American dictators are over. There can be no justification for the suspension of democracy in Peru. The whole international community must show that leaders such as Fujimori cannot seek to solve their country's problems—and Peru certainly has vast problems—by carrying out army-backed coups. That —as Fujimori has already found out—is the route to increased problems. There is no doubt that he greatly underestimated the scale of international condemnation of his actions.

A direct consequence of that external criticism was the alteration of the timetable for a return to democracy, as the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) rightly said. Elections for the constituent assembly are now to be held in November. However, the pressure from the international community must be maintained to ensure that Fujimori, who has displayed a very strong authoritarian tendency, keeps his pledge to ensure real democracy in Peru.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

When terrorism becomes an extreme menace to the state and threatens the lives of democratically-elected representatives and ordinary civilians, the state must take drastic measures to preserve itself as we did within our own polity when, in 1972, we abolished a democratically-elected assembly in Northern Ireland. We would not have done that had the IRA campaign of terror not been in full swing. We still do not have proper representative local government in Northern Ireland after all these years. That is a direct consequence of terrorist action.

Mr. Foulkes

I do not want to consider Northern Ireland in detail. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that Northern Ireland is still subject to democratic Government from this very House. He is part of it. In his army-backed coup, Fujimori undermined democracy and dissolved the elected Parliament.

I hope that Conservative Members will agree that the pressure should be kept on. We believe that Peru's dependence on international financial assistance means that the international community can play a key role in restoring democracy. In particular, Britain, in its presidency of the Community for the next six months, must play a leading part in keeping the pressure on. All co-operation must be conditional on the swift return to democracy. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the British Government, in their Community presidency role and other roles, will keep that pressure on.

In passing, perhaps we should issue a little warning to our friends in the United States who might be thinking of diverting from their traditional political loyalties. The experience in Latin America of moving away from traditional political parties has not been that wonderful in Peru and Brazil. They might be wrong to believe that their salvation lies in moving away from traditional political loyalties.

No one has considered Haiti in detail during the debate. However, by saying that there is democracy in the whole of Latin America, the implication was that Haiti has some kind of democratic system. The situation in Haiti is even less encouraging. Marc Bazin was named Prime Minister in June, supported by the military and, of course, by business. Since he became Prime Minister repression has greatly increased. He achieved only 14 per cent. of the votes in the last presidential election when Father Aristide received 67 per cent.

The prospect of democracy in Haiti is, once again, very distant. The Tontons Macoutes have returned and political assassinations are commonplace with at least 2,000 people having been killed since the coup took place. The British Government, acting with others, must do all that they can to maintain and increase the isolation of Haiti. Brian Mulroney, the Canadian Prime Minister, said recently that he, with President Bush and President Mitterrand, were discussing plans to speed the return of Father Aristide to his role as the duly democratically elected president.

What will the British Government do? Are they involved and, if not, why not?

Mr. Jacques Arnold

The hon. Gentleman has highlighted a problem: where does Latin America start and finish? Haiti is a francophone country and there is therefore some doubt as to whether it should be included with the other francophone countries of the Caribbean where it is located. If we are to include the islands of the Caribbean, and as Latin America is hispanic, as is Cuba, will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that communist Cuba is the only country in Latin America that does not have an elected president?

Mr. Foulkes

I do not want to cross swords with the hon. Gentleman about the definition. We would spend hours doing that, and we do not have hours. I want to give the Minister some time to reply. However, that is an interesting argument.

In relation to Cuba, I repeat what I said last year. It applies equally today. I said: Let me express the hope … that the conditions in Cuba will soon allow a move towards pluralism. I strongly deplore the continuing confrontational attitude of the United States, which is hindering such a development."—[Official Report, 22 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 856.] That remains equally true today and it certainly is our position in relation to Cuba.

Overall democracy will be put to a severe test in Latin America over the next year or so. In several countries, including Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and even Brazil, there has been talk of coups. We must do all that we can—Conservative Members agree with me—in aid and in trade co-operation to ensure that the age of democracy in Latin America does not become a short-lived, transient fluke but is a lasting tradition as it moves from one democratic Government to the other, whether of the right or the left.

I now refer briefly to some social problems. Although the economic revival of Latin America is certainly welcome, the view has been expressed—perhaps not tonight, but elsewhere and on previous occasions — that all the problems are being solved by the economic revival. Latin America is a continent with a vastly unequal distribution of income and wealth. The neo-liberal policies advocated by Conservative Members, including again by the hon. Member for Gravesham, of low expenditure, privatisation and free markets have resulted certainly in lower inflation, in higher exports and in money pouring into the region, but at what social cost? Some of the incoming investment is just speculative. The deep, grinding poverty remains. National economies are still imbalanced because state action is minimal in many parts, and gross national product has not gone past the levels that it reached in the 1970s.

Not only is it clear that market forces are not enough, but there is a real danger that the neo-liberal economic strategy that is now dominant will increase inequalities and widen social cleavages. That will create a much greater potential for disruption and division within the region and put fledgling, fragile democracies at risk.

In Brazil, the drastic austerity programme, for example, has resulted in 12 million unemployed, wages that have fallen by 20 per cent. over the past year, and a minimum wage that has been reduced by successive freezes to a pitifully small amount. Brazil, the largest and richest country in the continent, now has the world's worst income distribution—a huge gap between the very rich and grinding poverty of many people. It has homelessness on the increase, rapidly growing shanty towns, and a rapidly rising infant mortality rate. That picture will not help to stabilise, protect and preserve the fragile democracies that we have been talking about.

The truth about Latin America is that the hidden price of neo-liberal macro-economic success has been the living standards which are no higher than those of more than a decade ago—high unemployment, widespread lack of education and appalling housing and urban slums. In 1960, of the 400-odd million people about whom the hon. Member for Gravesham spoke, 100 million were below the poverty line. Thirty years later, after 30 years of so-called progress, more than 200 million are below the poverty line.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Much of those 30 years was under military dictatorship, nationalised industry and state control. It is only in the past very few years that we have had free trade and liberal economics. At least we now have a chance of a breakthrough. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that 30 years of military dictatorship and nationalised industry are the fault of the current economic policy.

Mr. Foulkes

Unemployment, social divisions and divisions of wealth have increased in the past few years under the new liberal economic policies. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some of the dictators followed those policies, too.

While it is welcome that El Salvador's 12-year war is this year officially over, problems remain with the peace process. The fact that the fragile peace has held is as much a testament to war-weariness, after all the years of struggle and conflict, as anything else. However, I hope that the Minister will agree that it is to be deplored that while the Government of El Salvador have complied with the letter of the peace agreements, for example by disbanding the police units, they have not complied with the spirit. They have merely transferred the men and equipment to other units.

Despite the inevitable mutual distrust, the United Nations representatives in El Salvador have expressed some optimism that progress will continue to be made. But it is essential that the social and economic issues that caused the conflict in the first place are tackled, if the peace is to last. In that respect, reconstruction aid will be crucial. It is important that the American Government be encouraged to change military aid into aid for reconstruction. It is also important that Britain plays a role in providing much needed assistance. Even if the Minister cannot tell us anything tonight, I hope that he will undertake —

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can.

Mr. Foulkes

Then I look forward to his saying it tonight.

Chile was mentioned by several Conservative Members. In some ways it is paradoxical that Chile provides one of the most encouraging models of the new Latin American democracy. Its Government take the most positive attitude of all Latin American countries to human rights. They are facing up to the unhappy legacies, instead of sweeping them under the carpet, as some other countries have tended to do. Chile has a compensation scheme for families of Pinochet's victims and is setting up a national organisation for reparation and reconciliation to seek a long-term answer to the problem of human rights. That is a follow-up to last year's Rettig report, which detailed more than 1,000 cases of army responsibility for killings and disappearances.

There is to be a case against 17 of the carabinieros, including the commanding officer General Mendoza, for three murders, despite the amnesty granted by Pinochet for human rights abuses. That determination to face up to the past and seek justice is a notable example, which we hope that the rest of the region will follow.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Including Cuba.

Mr. Foulkes

Yes, the whole of the region. I hope that the Minister will support that.

It is also worth noting that President Aylwin's Government, who preside over a booming economy, remain popular and secure. The right was humiliated in the recent historical municipal elections—in Chile, if not in the United Kingdom. I am honest, as ever.

We see great opportunities for developing trade in the economies of Latin America. I see that the time is moving on. I do not want to cut the Minister short so I shall cut my remarks short. I see great opportunities, but it is important that Britain sees and seizes the opportunities. In spite of all the United States rhetoric of enterprise for the Americas, when it has come to matching that rhetoric with real dollars, it has often failed. I hope that we shall see our opportunity and seize it.

As in many other areas, the British Government seem to have run out of steam in their relations with Latin America. Great opportunities exist in Latin America for Britain and the European Community. Britain has an opportunity as President of the Community to lead the way. We should break away from our preoccupation with Maastricht rebellions, looking over the Government's shoulder, additionality and subsidiarity. As 1994 approaches, it will be 500 years since the landfall of Cristobal Colon—to bring a little culture into the occasion I have got the pronunciation correct. As we do not have the Minister of State but only the Under-Secretary of State, perhaps I had better say Christopher Columbus. We should also look beyond Europe, and our day-to-day preoccupations with the European Community, to the new world and Latin America to provide at least a significant part of our future trade and political co-operation.

12.14 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on initiating the debate. He is the acknowledged leader of the Latin American group in the House of Commons. He mentioned that this is the fifth annual debate of this kind, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). I have no doubt that, as long as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is a Member of the House, he will take every opportunity to ensure that Latin American affairs are properly debated at this time of the year.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), should have been replying to the debate, and I apologise on his behalf for his not being here. Among Foreign Office Ministers, he is the acknowledged expert on Latin America, as every hon. Member knows, but he is engaged on important European Community business connected with the presidency. He would have had to cancel that appointment to be here tonight, and I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that that would have been the wrong decision.

As all hon. Members have recognised, Latin America has experienced dramatic political and economic change in recent years. Despite setbacks in one or two countries, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) among others, and despite the unreformed communist regime in Cuba, democratic government is now the norm in most of the region. Of course, there is a little less euphoria now than there was 12 months ago. Earlier, I read the debate of 12 months ago, and I can judge that as well. However, there is a little less euphoria elsewhere in the world —for example, about eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

And Britain.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman makes his comment from a sedentary position.

In Latin America, we are observing free market economic policies, aimed at steady growth. The control of inflation and the encouragement of investment and competition have also been adopted by most of the countries in the region. Regional integration is being pursued, for example, through the establishment last year by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay of Mercosur —a new southern-cone free trade area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham mentioned, Mexico is negotiating a north American free trade area with the United States and Canada.

All those developments point to a transformation of the prospects for Latin America, by comparison with the gloomier prognosis of the 1980s. Together they have rightly been dubbed "the quiet revolution" by British press commentators. British business, investors and financial markets are all taking notice. We are already one of the largest foreign investors in the region, and are keen to promote more exports.

The British Government are responding energetically to the changes, to strengthen already good relations with Latin America. We have resident United Kingdom-based diplomatic representatives in every continental Latin American country. We are doubling our bilateral development aid during the next few years, albeit from a modest base, and, of the European Community aid programmes to the region of about 200 million ecu per year, we contribute about 20 per cent.

We are strengthening political links. In June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister became the first holder of his office in history to visit South America, when he made his successful visits to Colombia for talks with President Gaviria and his Ministers, and to Rio, in Brazil, to represent the United Kingdom at the Earth summit. Of course, my right hon. Friend also had talks with President Collor.

In May, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Mexico, and we look forward to welcoming President Salinas as a guest of the British Government on his visit to London later this month. Last year, the then Secretary of State for Education also visited Mexico, and the then Secretary of State visited Venezuela to launch the Projecto Venezuela to encourage British exports to that valuable market.

We have just started our presidency of the European Community, and during that time we shall do what we can to strengthen the EC's already good relations with Latin America. Those relations are based mainly on the EC dialogues with the Rio group and Central American countries. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State represented the United Kingdom at the annual meetings between the EC and the Central American Ministers in Lisbon in February and Rio group Ministers in Santiago in May. During our presidency, we shall build on those contacts so that the EC can best make its contribution to encouraging development and regional integration in Latin America, the consolidation of democracy and the observance of human rights.

I should like to make some lengthy remarks on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, who launched this interesting debate. He mentioned Colombia, with which we enjoy excellent bilateral relations. Inevitably, the successful visit by the Prime Minister in June has enhanced our relationship. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley also said that that historic visit was a gesture to remedy the less than dynamic interest in South America that our country had shown for many years, especially in view of our historic relations with that part of the world.

In his talks with President Gavira and senior Colombian Ministers, the Prime Minister agreed that we will continue our co-operation in the important matter of drugs, and that both countries would work towards greater bilateral trade and investment. It was agreed that that would include the proposed signing of an investment promotion and protection agreement. My right hon. Friend also invited the Colombian Minister for Foreign Trade to visit the United Kingdom in the autumn.

Hon. Members will know that, in 1991, BP made a great oil discovery at Cusiana, which was the culmination of nearly five years of exploration work. It represents BP's largest find in the world for more than 20 years. A number of United Kingdom companies have expressed interest in the opportunities presented by that significant discovery.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the ancien regime of Latin America in Cuba and Nicaragua, as it once was. Castro's regime is the best example of the terrible impoverishment that results from bad economic policy. That country is impoverished notwithstanding the enormous subsidy that it received from the Soviet Union for many years. Now that that subsidy has come to an end, its poverty has got even worse. There is no willingness to undertake political reforms, despite recent attempts to attract investment. It is increasingly an anachronism in a region where democracy, with all its difficulties about which we have heard, is none the less almost universal. The persecution of dissidents in Cuba is unacceptable.

My hon. Friend condemned the terrorist campaign of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, as did the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Mr. Foulkes

The Minister has painted a very one-sided picture of Cuba, which has made substantial advances in health and education and has one of the best literacy rates and health services in Latin America. It is also under great pressure from the economic embargo from the United States. I am not saying that everything in Cuba is wonderful, but there must be a balance in the way that one looks at it, and that balance is not coming from the Foreign Office or from the Minister.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If a country receives billions of dollars-worth of subsidies from the Soviet Union over many years, it must have something to show for it, and Cuba set up schemes for education and health care. However, it destroyed human rights and failed to develop a market economy or any way to sustain prosperity for its people. It is a country with enormous potential, but it has been ruined since the Castro revolution.

All hon. Members who have spoken mentioned Peru. I recognise that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley unreservedly condemned the dreadful campaign of Sendero Luminoso. We also condemn the indiscriminate violence in that brutal campaign and the dreadful violence of the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac AmarU terrorists in their efforts to destabilise Peru. The terrorists clearly intend to exploit the situation for their own ends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham emphasised the enormous importance of the trade opportunities available to Britain in Latin America. He drew attention to the great importance of the Uruguay round and the GATT negotiations. In that, I heartily concur with him. It was right to point out to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley the tremendous efforts of the Prime Minister last week in Munich to press this point on our European and other G7 colleagues.

Mr. Foulkes

It was a total failure.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It may have been a failure, but he made a valiant attempt, and the failure was not his fault.

It is all too easy for forget, and many people do not know, that Latin America accounts for 9 per cent. of the world gross domestic product. Its total GDP is over $1,000 billion, more than the combined GDP of Africa, excluding South Africa, the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia. Brazil is the eighth largest, and Mexico the 16th largest, economy in the world. The continent is rich in natural resources, with one third of the world's copper and bauxite, 20 per cent. of iron ore, plus vast energy reserves of coal, oil gas and hydro-electric potential. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe was right to underline this.

Perhaps I may correct the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. I think that he said that our trade with Latin America amounted to only 1 per cent. of our —

Mr. Foulkes

No, £1 billion.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is right. It was £1.2 billion in 1991, accounting for 2 per cent. of our exports. It is still a small market for us, and it must be improved, but in several markets the United Kingdom is the second largest foreign investor and has been so for a long time. British companies are expanding and making new investments.

I shall now deal with the constitutional position in Peru. On 8 April, together with our European Community partners, we expressed deep concern at President Fujimori's suspension of the constitution rule and reports of human rights violations. Meanwhile, we have suspended the balance of payments assistance promised to President Fujimori during his visit to the United Kingdom.

We can all agree with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley that the day of the dictators must be over—that is absolutely right. Naturally, international reactions to events on 5 April were universally critical. Peru's friends in the wider world should work for the earliest possible restoration of Peruvian democracy, as we are doing. It is also important to encourage the efforts of the Organisation of American States in that sphere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham said that Peru has many problems. The election of the constituent assembly is fundamental to the settlement of Peru's constitutional crisis. It is unfortunate that the elections planned for 18 October have been postponed until 22 November. We believe that there are valid reasons for that. The delay was for practical reasons. It is essential that the elections should be properly organised. However, we will continue to monitor progress, as it is most important that the elections should now proceed without further delay if the Peruvian Government's good faith is not to be challenged.

In developing his thesis about the fragility of democracy in Latin America, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley referred to Haiti, which was correctly described as French America. With our European Community partners, we support the efforts of the Organisation of American States to work for the return of President Aristide on the basis of the Washington accords.

The hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Mark Bazin was chosen as Prime Minister of the consensus Government, provided for in the tripartite agreement between the illegal regime, the Parliament and the army. He was right to say that the Bazin Cabinet does not represent a true consensus in Haiti. It excludes the pro-Aristide FNCD and the M RN party of Mr. Theodore. It is not clear that Mr. Bazin has the will or the capacity to negotiate a settlement, even were President Aristide to agree to negotiations. We shall press that during our presidency of the European Community.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley also mentioned El Salvador. We are extremely pleased at the progress on the peace process in El Salvador. Credit must be given to the leaders of both Government and FM LN for the fact that they have overcome the obstacles in the implementation of the 16 January agreement. The United Nations, particularly ONUSAL, played a critical role in keeping the two sides talking. There is now a good chance of implementation being completed by the 31 October deadline.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned aid, and asked me to comment on aid for El Salvador. The European Community has pledged 50 million ecu to the reconstruction plan, of which the United Kingdom contributes 20 per cent. I am glad to report that the first group of projects has been approved, including the establishment of a land bank to help the ex-combatants to purchase land. I am also glad that the reconstruction plan recognises the importance of the non-governmental organisations' efforts, which the British Government have long supported.

The hon. Gentleman also cited Chile as a paradoxical example—because of its past, sad history—of a country that has emerged as a modern democracy. Our bilateral relations with Chile have grown in warmth and substance since its smooth and peaceful return to democratic rule in 1989. President Aylwin made a successful visit to Britain in April last year as the guest of the Government. Our contacts with his Government are good and frequent at senior and working level. Chile is a valuable trading partner. Its liberal market economy is an example to its neighbours and it provides excellent opportunities for British investment. I am glad that more companies are discovering what the Chilean market has to offer.

My hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe and for Gravesham spoke about their proposal for a Latin America conference next year and paid tribute to Canning house, which next year celebrates its 50th anniversary. I am happy to agree with my hon. Friends that Canning house plays a most valuable role in United Kingdom-Latin American relations. I am glad to confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue its financial contribution of £30,000 in 1992–93. My hon. Friends are discussing with the Secretary of State the imaginative proposal for a Latin American conference in this country next year. Those discussions will continue, and my right hon. Friend will carefully consider the proposal.

I am grateful for this opportunity to review Britain's relations with Latin America. The changes in the region represent an irreversible commitment to progress and reform. Undoubtedly, there will be setbacks, but the general trend is set, and the Government will do what they can to reinforce it. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley said that the conditions were ripe for an improvement in relations. They are, and there will be an improvement. He also said that some of our relationships had run out of steam. That is a little inconsistent with his averment of an improvement in relations, which will certainly come about.

The future will provide many more opportunities to strengthen our relations in economics, culture, science and education. We shall certainly work to that end.