President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, friends.
I would like to sincerely welcome all the participants of the Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference.
This conference, initiated by the leaders of the Russian State Duma, has brought together representatives of legislative bodies and leaders of political parties, heads of public organisations, experts and diplomats from most Latin American countries.
A group of high-ranking legislators from Latin America, the people who represent their constituents and who are called upon to serve their interests, has arrived in Moscow. This again confirms that their nations are willing to develop a comprehensive mutually beneficial partnership with Russia. We are convinced that promoting direct dialogue between parliaments will open up opportunities for deepening our cooperation and expanding it through new areas of joint activity.
The State Duma speaker informed me about the conference’s large and very busy programme yesterday. I am sure you will have a rewarding time at the sessions and round tables discussing the role of parliamentary diplomacy in strengthening cooperation between Russia and Latin American countries across the board: in politics and security, as well as socioeconomic and humanitarian spheres.
Let me note that Russia’s and Latin America’s views on international issues traditionally have a lot in common. Latin Americans have always strived for independence, and the history of your continent is full of the most notable examples.
This happened during the period of struggle against colonialism during the time of the famous Simon Bolivar, who became a symbol of freedom not only for Latin America, but perhaps for the entire world and for all humanity. This also happened in the second half of the last century, when the continent gave the world such selfless fighters for justice and social equality as Salvador Allende, Ernesto Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
I have to say that this applause is appropriate, as they say; it is applause that speaks to the role of those people whom I have just named. I remember my meetings with Fidel Castro, there were several of them. That was a rock, you know? That was a man who thought about people every second, and not only about the Cubans: he thought about all of Latin America, he thought about all the people on planet Earth. And indeed, his entire being was imbued with concern for achieving the common good and justice. He had a unique personality. These are the kind of people Latin America gives birth to.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that even today Latin American countries are showing a pattern in the success of the progressive process of forming a multipolar system of international relations based on equality, justice, respect for international law and each other’s legitimate interests.
In this new polycentric architecture, countries of Latin America, that have enormous economic potential and human resources and want to pursue a sovereign, independent foreign policy, will have a leading role in the world. There is no doubt about it.
Russia sincerely wishes the countries of the Latin American region to develop progressively and dynamically and strengthen their positions in the world economy and politics. We have always advocated for Latin America, in its unity and diversity, to be strong, independent and successful.
In order to achieve this, we are ready to build bilateral relations as well as work closely with integrational associations of Latin America, such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, and the Southern Common Market. In particular, we will help ensure that these associations establish practical ties with the Eurasian Economic Union and compare approaches on current issues of trade policy, tariff regulation, stimulating investment, and technology transfer.
Of course, Russia is happy that there are countries in Latin America, which plan to join BRICS as full members or partners.
You know, departing from the text of my speech, I can say this: we have information and understanding of what is happening in different Latin American countries, while different political forces take different approaches to the associations I mentioned, including to the process of joining BRICS. We know this and we are aware of different trends within different political circles, particularly ahead of various political events inside these countries. However, BRICS is an organisation which is not a military alliance but rather a forum for coordinating approaches and developing mutually acceptable solutions based on sovereignty, independence and respect for one another.
My strong belief is that whatever is taking place within political circles and political parties in the countries which are on the way to joining or have joined or are seeking to join and work with these organisations, including BRICS, no matter what, all political forces will have to factor in people’s sentiments. Voters’ sentiments, in the broad sense of the word, in all Latin American countries add up to the aspiration for freedom and independence. All countries and political parties in Latin America will have to keep this in mind. This means that, of course, we will cooperate strategically, including on the issues which are key on the BRICS agenda.
Why am I speaking about this? The reason is that the BRICS Chairmanship will pass on to Russia soon and I believe we will do the utmost to make sure that the so-called global majority has the sense that they are not simply the majority in terms of the population size of their countries but they are the majority on account of their development prospects.
As for our relations with Latin American countries, I would like to specially mention several things that are of priority importance. These relations are, first of all, friendly, constructive and mutually beneficial, and they develop on the basis of equality and respect for each other’s interests.
Over the previous five years, trade between Russia and Latin America has increased by 25 percent. Russia’s exports have climbed by 130 percent and include goods that are needed by Latin American countries, such as wheat, fertilisers, oil products and many other essential goods. These are our traditional markets. Of course, a faster transition to settlements in national currencies, and the creation of channels for financial and banking cooperation, as well as of new transport and logistics chains – all this facilitates the further development of mutual trade.
As for the financial sphere, we recently hosted the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, where African leaders said, as if in passing, that the total debt burden on Africa is over a trillion dollars. This is simply impossible to repay, given the level of economic development of these countries.
Why am I saying this? I am saying this to point out that modern financial and credit relations in the world are structured in such a way that they serve exclusively the interests of the so-called “golden billion.” This “golden billion,” more precisely, the leaders of these “golden billion” countries exploit practically all other countries. They abuse their position in terms of technology, information and finances. They have built international financial institutions in such a way and introduce such rules into financial and economic activities that bring practical benefit only to them. I want to emphasise that on the face of it everything looks quite favourable, but in the end all these rules and institutions serve the interests of this “golden billion.” And this is certainly something we need to think about. We are looking into this, including within the organisation I have already mentioned, the BRICS.
I am sure, I know that Latin American integration organisations are also thinking about it and discussing these issues. These credit commitments that have been formulated for many emerging markets, they are no longer regarded as some kind of credit commitments – they are more like levy, some kind of a contribution. It should not be like this. That is why we all must work together to change the rules in this international sphere as well.
Our common asset is a whole range of major mutually beneficial investment and high-tech projects. Let me remind you, for example, that a nuclear research and technology centre is being built in Bolivia with Russian participation, that joint biopharmaceutical enterprises are expanding their activities in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and that a metallurgical plant is being upgraded in Cuba. These are just some examples.
Our friendly attitude towards the countries of the region is also reflected in the fact that we are always ready to come to the aid of Latin Americans and always extend a helping hand and support in overcoming the devastating effects of natural disasters, in the fight against terrorism, extremism, organised crime and drug trafficking.
A high level of co-operation is also maintained with Latin American nations in the humanitarian sphere. The number of countries with which we have established visa-free travel is steadily increasing – it currently includes 27 Latin American countries. This is opening up new opportunities for business, scientific and cultural exchanges and increasing tourism in both directions.
At present, almost 5,000 Latin American students are studying in our country, and their annual quota for tuition-free grants in Russian universities is also increasing this academic year. We also provide professional training for the national law enforcement agencies of Latin American countries.
Russian-Latin American projects in medicine and public health, and biological and epidemiological security are being implemented with good results. During the coronavirus pandemic, our country was among the first to supply Latin America with large shipments of vaccines, test systems, sanitary and hygiene products, and other medical and humanitarian goods.
Friends, I cannot fail to mention that, as we know, there are about 300,000 natives of Russia and the USSR residing in Latin America. Many of them have fully integrated into the life of their new home countries, and some of them continue to live in their Russian communities, preserving their national spiritual culture, language, and identity. And we are grateful – I want to emphasise this and say it to you, parliamentarians, because you represent the interests of your constituents, and I ask that you pass on these words of gratitude to those people with whom you work back in your countries – we are grateful to our Latin American partners, to the citizens of your countries for their attention to the needs and interests of our compatriots, for preserving the memory of the role that Russian people played in the formation of some of the continent’s state institutions, the development of their economies, as well as culture and the arts.
I want to conclude by emphasising that I believe it is the right time to bolster the interparliamentary format of Russia’s relations with Latin American countries as well as the right thing to do. The support of legislators is indeed needed in many matters concerning the further expansion of multifaceted ties between Russia and Latin America. This is precisely what the current Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference has as its objective.
Allow me to sincerely wish you, the participants and the organisers of these events, successful work and all the best. And of course, I would like to wish you as parliamentarians success in your noble work in your countries.
Thank you very much.
Welcome to Russia!