Baerbock’s Lectures (II)

German Foreign Minister Baerbock’s first Latin American trip without success. No progress in quest for influence. Brazil deals Baerbock an open diplomatic rebuff.

BERLIN/BRASÍLIA/BOGOTÁ/CIUDAD DE PANAMÁ (Own report) – German Foreign Minister Baerbock’s first Latin American trip ended last week in Brazil with a hefty rebuff and with no apparent success in Colombia or Panama. Talks on climate and energy policy had officially been the focus of her trip. Brazil should be motivated to protect its Amazon Forest. Colombia is earmarked as Germany’s future green hydrogen supplier, and Panama with its Canal as the hub for South American hydrogen exports. It is unknown, whether the foreign minister’s trip yielded concrete results. And it is also not clear what Baerbock had achieved in her quest to strengthen the West’s position in the USA’s fierce power struggle, ongoing since some time, against China’s growing influence in Panama. Her attempt to pressure Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his government to choose sides against Russia in the Ukraine war, has utterly failed. Lula and his foreign minister granted Baerbock neither a meeting, nor a joint press conference with another member of the government.

Green Hydrogen

Officially, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s six-day trip to Latin America, last week, had been focused on climate and energy policy. Her three-day visit to Brazil was particularly centered on halting deforestation in the vast Brazilian sector of the Amazon, while in the Colombian capital Bogatá, she was negotiating for the future purchase of green hydrogen from Columbia. That country has “enormous potential for becoming a heavyweight in renewables and green hydrogen,” Baerbock declared.[1] Germany’s Economics Minister Habeck had already made similar comments during his visit to Bogatá in mid-March. Habeck had asserted that there are enterprises in Germany hat “would be interested in eventually buying a climate-neutral source of energy.”[2] Because green hydrogen must be transported by ship from South America to Germany, Panama is of considerable significance in Germany’s plans. The Panama Canal dissects the country and is the major maritime route from Latin America’s west coast to Europe. Panama could become the hub for green hydrogen, enticed Baerbock in the capital Ciudad de Panamá.[3]

Climate Change Rather than Energy Transition

In Bogatá, the foreign minister failed to mention that Germany is not promoting climate change in Columbia, but rather climate transition. This derives from the fact that, since Germany decided last year to halt the purchase of Russian coal, imports of Columbian coal have massively increased. Already in 2022, Columbian coal imports had tripled from less than 2 – to about 5.8 million tons. The companies EnBW, RWE, STEAG and Uniper were specifically named.[4] This change in supplier has great significance, because Columbian coal is often mined under deplorable conditions. Notorious, for example, is the El Cerrejón mine, one of the largest coal mines in the world, run by Switzerland’s Glencore company. For years, it has been making headlines because of its deplorable working conditions and the environmental pollution causing serious health hazards for the population. ( reported.[5]) Since some time, massive protests have been held at the site. The demand raised by the indigenous environmental activist Jakeline Romero of the Fuerze de Mujeres Wayúu, womens’ organization, that she visits the site, to inform herself of the consequences of Germany’s El Cerrejón coal imports, were coldly ignored by Baerbock.[6]

West Against China

Besides climate and energy policies, Baerbock’s trip to Latin America was particularly focused on the escalating power struggle between the Western countries on one side and Russia or China on the other. In Panama, Baerbock’s third stop, fierce competition for influence is being waged between the United States and China. Initially, the People’s Republic had been able to rapidly expand its standing, after Panama cut its ties to Taiwan in 2017 and established official relations with Beijing – in spite of massive pressure from Washington. China immediately launched several large infrastructure projects in the country, including a port terminal as well as a bullet train line linking the capital Ciudad de Panamá to Costa Rica. As insiders report, due to massive pressure from the USA, the majority of these projects were canceled following the July 1, 2019 inauguration of President Laurentino Cortizo.[7] However, it is uncertain, whether this cancelation will be upheld. Even Cortizo, who is clearly USA-oriented, points to the fact that the Biden administration’s promises to replace China’s with its own mega-infrastructure programs (“Build Back Better World”) in Panama, have not materialized.[8] According to Berlin Baerbock had also criticized Beijing’s influence in Panama.

West Against Russia

In Brazil, on the other hand, Berlin is doing its best to force President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his government to change course in relationship to Russia.  On several occasions, Lula has made it clear in public that he is not going to take sides in the Ukraine War and that he is instead committed to getting speedy negotiations between the two warring factions. ( reported.[9]) Since Lula’s inauguration on January 1, 2023, the German government has dispatched more members of the German government to Brasília than to virtually any other capital in the world, to attempt to win Lula over to its side and to strengthen its ties to Brazil. In early January, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke accompanied German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on his visit to Brazil. Steinmeier had attached great importance to his personal presence at Lula’s inauguration.[10] Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Brasília and attempted to persuade Brazil’s president to supply Kiev with Gepard anti-aircraft tanks or at least the munition for it from Brazil’s stocks. Lula refused publicly.[11] Berlin’s Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Cem Özdemir, Minister of Environment traveled to Brazil preceding the arrival of Baerbock, early last week, who was accompanied by Labor Minister Hubertus Heil.

No Meeting, No Press Conference

Baerbock received an ostentatious rebuff in Brasília. Recently, at a press conference before the eyes of the world, Germany’s foreign minister caused a stir, when she felt she had to lecture her Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, who had received her in Beijing, also on the question of human rights. This was done in a way that drove Qin to retort “What China needs least of all is a teacher from the West.”[12] During her 3-day visit, the Brazilian government had not accorded her a single joint press conference. The German minister found herself compelled to express her public criticism of Brazil’s standpoint on the Ukraine war standing alone in front of the Brazilian foreign ministry.[13] She had not met with her Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira, but only with his deputy Maria Laura da Rocha. Although Baerbock’s visit has been planned long in advance, Viera preferred to hold talks in Africa, for example, with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday.[14] Lula also did not take time out for a meeting with Baerbock. He is currently concentrating on close cooperation within the framework of the BRICS [15] and seeks to intensify Brazil’s cooperation with Africa [16]. Germany is in the process of losing its once strong influence in Brazil.


[1] „Enormes Potenzial“: Baerbock will Kolumbien für Energiekooperation gewinnen. 09.06.2023.

[2] Habeck sagt Kolumbien Unterstützung bei Kohle-Ausstieg zu. 15.03.2023.

[3] Baerbock: Mit stärkerer Zusammenarbeit mit Panama Welthandel sichern. 09.06.2023.

[4] Tobias Lambert: Für Menschen und Umwelt zu spät. 16.05.2023.

[5] See also Nach uns die Sintflut (III).

[6] Indigene Aktivistin fordert Baerbock zum Kohleminen-Besuch auf. 07.06.2023.

[7], [8] Nahal Toosi: ‘Frustrated and powerless’: In fight with China for global influence, diplomacy is America’s biggest weakness. 23.10.2022.

[9] See also “Balance World Geopolitics”.

[10] See also On Crumbling Ground.

[11] See also “On the Side of Diplomacy”.

[12] Baerbock mahnt Verantwortung Chinas im Ukrainekrieg an. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.04.2023. See also  Baerbocks Lektionen.

[13] Tjerk Brühwiller, Matthias Wyssuwa: Der komplizierte Freund hat anderes zu tun. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.06.2023.

[14] Priorizando relações entre Brasil e África, Mauro Vieira visita Etiópia. 05.06.2023.

[15] Brics ministers call for rebalancing of global order away from West. 02.06.2023.

[16] Lula quer ir a oito países africanos para reverter ‘apagão’ do Brasil com a região. 11.06.2023.