he Relations of Turkey and Latin America: Beyond Good Music and Che Guevara

11 May 2010
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Latin America has its conflicts in history. This is history of socialism, dictatorships, wars, assassinations, corruptions and so on. Latin America is a region where its importance has always been ignored by the rest of the world and was considered as the backyard of other powers. It has this deep history which has the potential to influence masses. However Latin America has always been kept in the background of the United States.

For many decades Latin America smashed under the colonial power that came from Spain and Portugal. Furthermore Latin America is still an arena where the super powers compete with each other. Actually this is a region that has 568 millions of people with a GDP of 4.26 trillion United States dollars. Its expected economic growth is 4% in 2010. The countries that are present in the region are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Today thanks to Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico; Latin America can find more place in world politics and economics.

In the continent there are 40 million Northern Americans, 600 million South Americans. In such a demographic entity Latin America is hungry for success stories. This hunger even made the Mexicans shout as “Osama! Osama!” in a football match with the American team (1).

It seems like this hunger will be satisfied by revolutionist, leftist, Catholic and local leaders.  One of the most popular names in Latin America is apparently the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Almost every speech, he references to Jesus. Furthermore he is the follower of Simon Bolivar and considered as the defender of the rights of Latin American citizens. Venezuelan Head of the State is seen as the leading opponent of American hegemony with his attractive political discourses. However linking the rise of Latin America to just Chavez would be insufficient. The political integration process in the region, the prospective super powers Brazil and Mexico are other crucial factors that make Latin America as global player.
As Latin America is the closest neighbour to the United States, anything that happens in this region directly affects the course of the international events. So, all these factors come together and make Latin America the new indispensable actor of the world politics.

A General Overview of Turkish – Latin American Relations
The relations between Turkey and South America go back to Ottoman Empire. During the 20th century the relationship stayed stable. In this new era acceleration in the relations was observed. As Turkish-Latin American relations have always been based on friendship, the seeds of this relationship were planted in 1800s. From the 1860s to the end of World War I, immigration waves were observed from Ottoman lands to Latin America. The emigrants were mostly Arab citizens who were carrying Ottoman passports and they were called as “El Turco.” After the declaration of the Republic, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, diplomatic and consular contacts between the two regions were increased (2).

In the very first years of the Republic, Turkey signed the Embassy Pact in 1910, and Cultural Cooperation Pact in 1929 with Argentine; Friendship Treaty in 1927 with Brazil. In the Cold War Era Turkey followed a more NATO based foreign politics.  This caused Turkey to move away from the South American region. Actually the reason that the relations between Turkey and Latin America could not go any further was that, Turkey was going through the same hard processes that Latin America did. Both regions were struggling with economic difficulties and militaristic conflicts. Also while constructing its foreign strategy, Turkey aimed to protect its borders. As a result, as Turkey and Latin America are too far away from each other, the low intensity relations between them should be considered as normal.

Contrary to the stagnant relationship between Latin American and Turkey during the Cold War Era; today Turkey has embassies in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela. According to the source of the Foreign Ministry, “accreditation list has been enlarged to include all of the 33 countries in the region.” Since the 18th century the geographical distance has became the main obstacle that prevents Turkey and Latin America to become closer.

Former President Süleyman Demirel’s official visit to Argentine, Brazil and Chile on April 1995 changed this situation. Since then Turkey became a member of many communities that were formed in Latin America. It became one of the pioneer supporters of the endeavours for to construct a stronger bridge between the two regions. Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the ANDEAN Group, Free Trade Area the of Americas (FTAA), Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), as well as other groupings in Latin America and the Caribbean are the unions that were formed for a better cooperation.

Good Economic Partners: Turkey and Latin America are Shoulder to Shoulder
It is a fact that there are very important South American actors for world economics. Brazil, Mexico and Cuba are the ones that Turkey is in close relations with. At the expense of risking the good dialogue with the United States which has been boycotting the island since 1962, Turkey did not hesitate to sign an agreement with Cuba to form a joint economic commission. Moreover in 2008 Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Güler said after meeting Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Investments and Economic Cooperation Marta Lomas Morales that Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortaklığı (TPAO) “is eager to join natural gas and oil exploration tenders in Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Ecuador.” Güler added that “we may cooperate with Cuba in oil and natural gas exploration. Turkey will set up a technical team to deal with joint energy projects with Cuba and it will visit Cuba in the coming days.”

Furthermore Cuba is one of the very first countries that supported Turkey’s membership in the United Nations Security Council (3). Cuba does not have the economic potential that Brazil and Mexico have. In this respect the trading volume with Turkey is not very high. However the relation between the two countries is promising. For the last few years bilateral trade relations has been improving which is very important especially for Cuban side which is looking for a supporter against the US.

Besides, Turkey started to develop its relations with Brazil too. As a BRIC country, Brazil is becoming one of the largest economies worldwide. It is already the largest economy in its region. It is a country where Turkey does not have a luxury to evaluate this economic potential. In this respect the Brazil-Turkish Business Council was founded in January 2006 under DEİK (Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board). Also Brazil’s Federal Council of Economics (COFECON) visited Turkey on 2007 and held high level meetings in Istanbul and Ankara. Brazil declared that it sees Turkey as a member of “New Eleven” group which also includes Vietnam, South Korea, Egypt and Thailand (4).

In 2007 the trade was worth nearly 900 million dollars between Turkey and Brazil. But apparently Brazil profits more in this economic interaction. Brazil, “exported $800 million worth of goods and services to Turkey while buying only $100 million.”

Mexico is another trade partner of Turkey. Mexico is the second powerful economic partner of Turkey in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s geographical closeness is an advantage to Turkey. Besides, it is the 13th largest economy in the world and with its 110 million people it has the potential to become one of the most prosperous nations in the globe besides China, the US, India, Japan and Brazil by 2050 according to Goldman Sachs (5).

Furthermore Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan are seen as the next generation of emerging markets which can compete with the BRIC foursome.

Cuba, Brazil and Mexico are not the only countries that Turkey has close economic ties. Turkey continues to hold joint economic meetings as the contemporary global politics necessitates. As Turkey tries to become a global player, it extends its interest area with the region. In this sense to develop economic relations, Turkey signed Economic and Commercial Cooperation Agreements with Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Guyana, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru (6).


In this new global system which is multi-polar; Latin America is gaining a supra-national identity. With its leaders who are supporting their national identities on global arena, this region challenges the global hegemony of the Northern politics. In the last decades, besides the economic acceleration of the region, political developments made Latin America as a focus of international relations. The social and political movements started to rise with different tendencies. With this rise, the leaders who antagonize neo-liberalism came to power in democratic ways. And these leaders like Hugo Chavez, Bolivian leader Socialist Evo Morales who is also the first local leader that came to power after 180 years, Uruguay’s leader Tabaré Vazques and Chilean leftist leader Michelle Bachelet will not seem to buckle under the hegemony of the United States.

If Latin America’s past is considered this seems too hard. Because, for centuries, Latin America was forced to built its history under the shadow of the US. However especially after September 11 the region’s belief to the United States’ unshakable power started to weaken.

So much changed since Former President Süleyman Demirel had made a visit to Latin America in 1995. This visit should be counted as a cornerstone in the relationship history of Latin America and Turkey because it was the first official visit by a Turkish President to the region. Eventually at the beginning, the relationship between Latin America and Turkey were at the lowest level. But today, the dynamics of the foreign politics has changed. Parallel to this, Turkey started to follow a more active strategy with Latin America which is mostly economic based.

Besides its economic importance, the region has close relations with the US, and the EU. Latin America, in particular, plays an active role in international organizations thanks to its numerous countries. Among these international organizations, the region is especially active inside the United Nations. For instance Brazil and Chile are temporary members of UN Security Council.

It is necessary that Turkey’s Latin American politics should not be limited to economics but should be supported by other strategies, especially in terms of energy. As the region is becoming a more important agent of world’s economics and politics; strengthening the relations with Latin America will make so much contribution to Turkey in its struggle to become a global power.

As mentioned above, both Turkey and Latin America has gone through the same processes. Today they are both struggling for becoming stable democracies. Turkish politics that avoids from taking risks and based its strategy on securing its borders needs new political and economical openings. Expanding the scope of traditional Turkish foreign policy will strengthen Turkey’s hand against its rivals in its region, namely China, Russia and Iran.

As a result, in such a multi-polar world Turkey should develop bilateral relations with Latin America. Besides the economic dimension, regional political movements are existed in Latin America like Organization of American states (OAS) and Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Also the region showed big improvement through the process of democratization. All these factors and the multiplicity of the countries in the region necessitate Turkey to construct an active dialogue with South America to increase its geopolitical importance. Consequently in an era that international systems are suffering under the hegemony of Northern countries, these improved relations between Latin America and Turkey will bring a new and libertarian understanding to new world order. And this newly constructed relationship can protect the global order from Anglo-Saxon domination.


5- ibid

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