When Presidents from Latin America get together in a public forum, few would believe it would be an opportunity to poke fun at each other and test the passions they share around economically progressive issues, such as free trade and energy reform. Yet that is exactly what we witnessed during the recent Pacific Alliance CEO Forum, held in New York City two weeks ago, when four of the founding member states got together for a roundtable discussion that belied the scripted stiffness that are typically characteristic of such sessions.
Instead, we watched as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos jokingly revealing that life was much easier when he was a minister, because, “if you had a problem, you could call the President.” Chilean President Pinera openly challenged his fellow members to accelerate key agreement of the Pacific Alliance pact, before participating in a comical back-and-forth about pricing strategies for Peru’s oil exports with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Mexico’s Economic Minister Ildefonso Guajardo (sitting in for Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto).
These are not just superficial moments shared among powerful figures in the political sphere of Latin America. Rather, such looseness reveals the increasingly tight bond between these nations who, not by accident, have economies that are on the vanguard of the “new” Latin America – defined by increasing free trade, improved education mandates and interest in establishing a stronger “brand” in calling for the world – and especially the United States – to increase its engagement with Latin America.
In fact, it was current current chair of the Pacific Alliance, President Santos, who was the most direct in his invitation: “We hope US business people will take a look at the south to see what our nations represent and the opportunities that we are offering. In his speech before the UN, President Obama did not once mention Latin America. We believe the interest of the US should be to the south of the Rio Grande River.”
(Further video excerpts from the Pacific Alliance Forum will be broadcast on Nearshore Americas in the weeks to come.)