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Spain Shifts Priorities to Europe

While Spaniards are feeling more at home within a unifying continent, they still hope to nurture their strong cultural and economic links to Latin America

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 9, 1992


THAT the Spanish feel a closeness to Latin America that surpasses anything they feel for most of their much-closer neighbors in Europe is evident every day here.

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Posters freshly plastered in cities across the country demand an end to the United States trade embargo on Cuba. Cultural events featuring Peruvian musicians or Mexican dancers are prominently advertised. Recent visits by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori and a group of four former South American presidents seeking Spanish investments in their countries receive prominent coverage. Travel agencies feature special fares to Argentina, Venezuela, and Mexico.

Yet with the European Community, which Spain joined in 1986, on the verge of critical decisions to increase political and economic integration, Spain is about to tie itself even more tightly to the continent on which it sits. With its borders opening progressively to the investors, products, and norms of Europe, and with its political decisions increasingly intertwined with those of its 11 EC partners, Spain's interests are becoming more focused on Europe. Spain bonds to Europe

Still, the Spanish say they want to maintain the historic, linguistic, and cultural ties binding them to Latin America, while at the same time acting as the Spanish-speaking world's advocate and entryway in Europe. As the Spanish economy grows, they want to see their country's involvement grow in Latin America's private and public development.

Yet not all analysts here believe this will be possible. Some believe Spanish ties to Latin America will weaken as Europe consolidates and the Americas develop free trade. Others believe conflicting signals reflecting a sentiment of ambivalence between two directions will continue to mark Spanish actions.

"Our interest is clearly here in Europe," says a Spanish official with the EC in Brussels, "but Latin America is our family."

The treatment of Spain as a near-pariah by the rest of Europe during the Franco dictatorship played a role in Spain's gaze west, according to some analysts, but that influence is fading.

"Part of the problem is sentimental. We felt rejected by the rest of Europe, and accepted by others like us across the sea," says Salvador Giner, director of the Institute for Advanced Social Studies in Madrid and Barcelona. "But now we have to make a decision for Europe, ... we will have to start treating a people so close to us [Latin Americans] like foreigners."

Spain refuses to require visas of Latin Americans visiting Spain, and maintains double-nationality accords with some countries - reasoning that Latin America is an extension of Spain and Europe, in the same way that the US and Canada are considered "European," with membership in NATO and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or that Germany considers ethnic Germans living in Eastern Europe part of Germany.

Giner calls it "nonsense" when Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez Marquez says Spain will never require visas for citizens of Latin America. "We are planning a borderless Europe by 1993, and the rest of [the EC] will not allow this arrangement to continue."