Maas and Human Rights

BERLIN/BRASÍLIA/BOGOTÁ (Own report) - Under pretext of rallying "allies for human rights," Germany's Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas (SPD) will meet the two most right-wing presidents of South America. His interlocutor on Tuesday, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, is an avowed supporter of Brazil's military dictatorship. Already within the first month of his incumbency, police murders have drastically increased in his country. Columbia's President Iván Duque, whom Maas will meet thereafter, opposes the peace treaty with the FARC insurgents. Over the past two and a half years, more than 300 government opponents have been assassinated in that country - in most cases with impunity. While the foreign ministry is speaking of having a "foundation of shared values" with Bolsonaro and Duque, Berlin is actually seeking to rally allies in its struggle against China and Russia and to strengthen its position in Latin America vis-à-vis Washington. It is also striving to obtain access to sanctions-proof markets for Germany's export industry.

A New Latin America Initiative

On Sunday night, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas set off on his visit to Latin America. The trip marks the prelude to the German government's new comprehensive Latin America Initiative, according to the Foreign Ministry. In addition to Brazil and Mexico, by far German industry's most important business partners south of the United States, Maas will visit Columbia - which for many years has served as a hub for attempted coups in Venezuela. The new Latin America initiative will be continued with a conference in Berlin, on May 28. Foreign ministers from nearly 30 countries from the entire region are expected to attend.

Meager Results

This is not the first time Germany's government has tried to strengthen its influence in Latin America. Since the turn of the century, it has undertaken multiple efforts - albeit with meager results. For example, Berlin and Brussels have been seeking to conclude an EU free trade agreement with the Mercosur alliance of South American states (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay). So far, the negotiations, which began in 1999, have not ended in an agreement. The German government has always focused on cooperation with Brazil. Since 2008, Germany has maintained a so-called Strategic Partnership with that country and several federal presidents (Christian Wulff in May 2011[1], Joachim Gauck in May 2013[2]) have announced its expansion on visits to Brasília - in vain. Whereas Brazil, in 2010, ranked 21st on Germany's list of trading partners - with a trade volume of nearly €20 billion - by 2017, it has slipped down to rank 29th - with a trade volume of only €16.5 billion. With the exception of Mexico, which is important as a hub for US business, Berlin has not achieved much in its relations with Latin America despite its grandiose announcements. This, by the way, is no different from the development of its relations with Africa.

Against China

Maas' current trip is guided by a motive that has also played an important role in Berlin's past Latin America initiatives: to roll back China's growing influence on that continent. In the twelve years from 2002 to 2014, Chinese trade rose from a mere US $17 billion to US $262 billion. The fact that in 2017 it fell to US $257 billion is only due to the slump in the price of raw materials - and not to the trade volume - which had remained just below the 2014 record maximum. Already back in 2010, the People's Republic of China had bypassed the EU, to become Latin America's second most important supplier - after the USA. In the meantime, it has become the most important trade partner to Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, among others. Chinese investments are also significantly increasing in Latin America. As on other continents, Chinese companies are carrying out enormous infrastructure projects in Latin America. Coinciding with its consistently intensifying economic relations, Beijing's political influence is also growing. Berlin has been seeking to subvert this trend for years - in vain. Maas is now making another try.[3]

Sanctions-Proof Markets

There are two new additional motives. On the one hand, since some time, Germany's foreign minister has been trying to bring other western and pro-western countries - with the exclusion of the USA - together in a casual alliance. This alliance - which is usually referred to as an "alliance of the multilateralists" - sets an ostentatious demarcation to the Trump administration's unilateralism. It has positioned Berlin in opposition to Washington, as well as to Beijing and Moscow.[4] In principle, Latin American countries can be considered participants for this still rather ambiguous project. On the other hand, Berlin is seeking new markets for Germany's export industry. The fact that Germany's economy is threatening to slip into recession, is not the sole reason. The escalating global conflicts are restricting the scope of German companies to a growing extent. For example, business with Iran, which had awakened great expectations following the signing of the nuclear agreement, has had to be cancelled, because of US sanctions. Other US sanctions threaten to reduce the already damaged future German trade with Russia.[5] Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that Germany's currently existential trade with China will suffer under the growing political tensions. Western countries would essentially be set back to the sales markets of the cold war period. At that time, Latin America had played an important role for the Federal Republic of Germany.

Military Dictatorship Supporters

For the public, the foreign minister declares his trip to be an effort to initiate closer cooperation in the struggle for human rights. However, he wants to do this with the two most right-wing South American countries. Brazil's President Jair Messias Bolsonaro is an avowed supporter of the former Brazilian military dictatorship. More than one-third of his cabinet members are from the military, who, when necessary, correct their president's decisions and have a controlling influence over the government. ( reported.[6]) Already during Bolsonaro's first month in office, police murders of suspects, particularly in the slums, have significantly increased. One of Bolsonaro's sons is under suspicion of being in close contact with the assassins of a left-wing politician of the opposition. ( reported.[7]) Bolsonaro's own racist, sexist, homophobic statements are legion. In addition, indigenous minorities, as well as Brazil's Landless Movement, are threatened by the president's policies. Just last week, 4,000 members of the indigenous community demonstrated in Brasilia against the violations of their rights.[8]

Assassination of Members of the Opposition

In Columbia, the human rights situation is also dramatic. Since the government signed the peace treaty with the FARC insurgents - November 24, 2016 - at least 128 members of the FARC's political successor party, as well as, at least 179 civil rights activists have been assassinated. Among those assassinated are indigenous activists, leaders of peasant associations, environmentalists and trade unionists.[9] According to UN statistics, 87 percent of the politically motivated assassinations have remained unpunished; Iván Duque, who took office August 7, 2018, is adamantly opposed to the peace treaty, and wants to change decisive points. Currently, mainly the indigenous organizations, Afro-Columbians, peasants, and trade unions are rising up in rebellion against the plans to change the treaty, the impunity of the assassinations of members of the opposition, as well as to the country's lagging development. A general strike last week followed several weeks of street barricades in the south of the country. In Bogotá, Maas will not only hold talks with Duque, but also with Venezuelan government opponents in exile, whose attempt to induce a military putsch in their country,[10] failed recently in spite of massive western - including German - support. Columbia is the central base for the Venezuelan putschists, alongside Florida.

"Foundation of Shared Values"

In advance of his trip to Brazil and Columbia, Maas declared in reference to his upcoming meetings with the presidents of the two countries that he would be meeting "allies for human rights and multilateralism." "We want to join forces on the world stage in our efforts to promote democracy, human rights, and fair rules. We want to help expand our foundation of shared values."[11]


[1] See also Herausforderer der USA.

[2] See also Motor der Industrie.

[3] Georg Ismar: Die Bundesregierung entdeckt ihr Interesse für Lateinamerika. 22.04.2019.

[4] See also Schulterschluss in Ostasien.

[5] See also War of Sanctions against Russia.

[6] See also "Now, Bets are on Brazil".

[7] See also Der Hauptverdächtige und sein Kumpan.

[8] Ulrike Bickel: Tausende Indigene protestieren in Brasilien gegen Landraub. 29.04.2019.

[9] Sonja Smolensi: Kolumbien: EU-Abgeordnete fordern von Duque Umsetzung des Friedensabkommens. 22.04.2019.

[10] See also Aufforderung zum Putsch und "Den Zusammenbruch beschleunigen".

[11] Maas in Lateinamerika: Verbündete für Menschenrechte und Multilateralismus. 29.04.2019.