Ties with Latin America celebrated
Trade grows, emigrant pioneers are remembered
By Kim Se-jeong
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Latin America.
Spearheaded by Park Chung-hee in 1962, the government signed diplomatic agreements with 15 Latin states, including Mexico, Chile, Paraguay and Honduras.
Lee Bok-hyung, a retired Korean diplomat who served almost 30 years in Latin America says the anniversary carries huge significance for Korea because it served as a catalyst for national economic growth.
“Economic growth was the top priority for President Park Chung-hee and he needed to expand diplomatic relations to sell made-in-Korea goods,” Lee said. Back then, Korean embassies abroad led efforts to increase exports. “Each embassy was given an export quota every year.”
Geopolitics was in favor of Korea in getting 15 countries to sign, for Korea was under the strong influence of the United States. The majority of countries in the Latin community were in the same boat.
Korea’s exports have been growing, reaching $ 40 billions last year. The import volume was put at $20 billion, resulting in a $20 billion surplus.
Exported goods include automobiles, home appliances and electric goods, replacing wall paper, wigs, ginseng products and bike tires sold in the 1960s and 70s.
Diplomatic ties also opened the door for a massive Korean emigration to Latin America, which was part of the Park administration’s scheme to earn foreign cash.
An accurate figure isn’t available, but in the mid 1960s alone, it’s believed nearly 100,000 Koreans had emigrated to Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
According to Ambassador of Paraguay to Korea Ceferino Valdez Peralta, serious and hard-working Korean immigrants in Paraguay have moved up the social ladder, quickly earning trust from locals. Taekwondo has also been adopted. “It is a national sport,” he said. Valdez Peralta himself practices Taekwondo.
Honduran Ambassador to Korea Michel Idiaqeuz Baradat is married to a daughter of Korean immigrant.
His mother-in-law Kang Young-shin was once appointed as Honduran ambassador to Korea.
Former ambassador Lee views the relationship between Korea and the Latin community since 1962 as a positive one. “Korea used to be seen as a distant nation torn by war and poverty, but now it’s a country they’d like to emulate,” he said. During the Korean War (1950-53), several countries including Colombia and Mexico provided support to the South.
Trade volume of $60 billion is one proof. It was further boosted by free trade agreements signed with Chile and Peru, and Korea is in the process of expansion.
The two parties consult each other on regional issues too. For example, Korea is a dialogue partner of the Sistema de la Integracion Centroamericana (Central American Integration System) and a member of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The people-to-people exchange is also a meaningful evidence.
From high-level officials on state visits to student volunteers who fly to help villagers in remote areas access clean drinking water, people in both sides find friends and common interest and mingle.
Commercial interest prevails
The current relations between Korea and the Latin world are dominated by commercial interests, and this will continue to be the case.
Korea is eyeing natural resources in Latin America. Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile are the world’s biggest producer of lithium, copper and iron ore deposits that Korean conglomerates are looking for.
The Latin states are attempting to attract Korean investors.
Idiaqeuz Baradat said “We (Honduras) will have to work to make the business community (in Korea) know business and investment conditions in Honduras.”
Valdez Peralta echoed Baradat. “We (Paraguay) need to show the Korean people here that distance doesn’t mean anything. Distance is nothing. Paraguayan products still can come to the Korean market.”
The anniversary year is peppered with various activities, one of which is unfolding this week, a photo exhibition.
Under the title “Fotografia e Identidad” (Photograph and Identity: A View from Latin America and the Caribbean.), 19 photographic works by prominent artists from 15 countries will be in display at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center in Seoul.
Ahn Jinog, president of Banditrazos Latin Communication and the organizer of the exhibition, said the photos will bring to the Korean public both traditional and contemporary Latin art. Opening on Tuesday, the exhibition will run through June 9. On May 18 and 19, painters will meet with the audience at the gallery.
On the sidelines, a guest lecturer from Venezuela and Ahn will host a lecture series on Latin culture until the end of the month.