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  • Valentina Gonçalves Delecave

The role of colonization in Latin America's distrist in the European Union

Updated: Oct 4, 2023


The objective of this article is to debate about whether and how the violent colonization suffered by all Latin America at the hands of the Europeans, around the years of 1500’s, all the way to the late 1800’s, influences the initiatives made by the European Union. It will focus on how the promotion of human rights by the EU is not being well received by Latins, and the challenges that both Europeans and Latins face in the search for the promotion of rights for everyone.


It is a known fact among those who have interest in the history of nations, that the colonization imposed by most European countries on Latin American can be described as nothing but barbaric. Addressing not only the inhumane mistreatment suffered by the indigenous people that were in America long before the colonizers arrived (which will be addressed later), but also the slavery that African people were forced to endure working for the big landowners, without any kind of guarantee of treatment in accordance with human rights, it is a possibility that those years of tragedy will influence today’s relations between the two continents:

“Colonialism is a matter of concern to public international law, since the latter served as an instrument not only for establishing colonial regimes but also for justifying the mode of their acquisition and colonial policy.”[1]

1. Why now?

According to the article promoted by the EU-LAC Foundation, the European Union initiative to aid Latin America in the promotion of human rights has reached its peak in the far away past, only to come back very recently:

“Despite the Latin American and Caribbean countries having received less development assistance in the last twenty years, as it went down from 12% in 1995 to 7% in 2016, the EU and its member States were responsible between 1995 and 2000 for 40% of all funds sent to Latin America...”[2]

On that note, it is rather reasonable that some suspicion would take place on that sudden change of heart by the EU, who was only interested in investing its resources in developed countries. There are many reasons that could have spiked that interest on the Latin problem, such as the military abuse by the government on Colombia, the threat to the freedom of expression in Mexico and Central America or the disappearances in Argentina. Not only that, but given the size of the continent, being the 2º largest in the world, all the fragmentation can damage the equal promotion of rights, seeing the presence of many different cultures, with different costumes and understanding of rights, and the growing disparity between the rich part of the population and the poor.

Many believe that the European Union objective it to help the countries on the region to recover from the world pandemic of Covid-19, while developing environmental projects, but that it might be too late to accept such help.

2. Motives

As already noted, the question of why Latin America is so resistant to accepting help from the European Union can be answered with facts that date back centuries. It is understandable the continent's restriction in being aided from those who are responsible for most of its problems, since the “third world country” condition arose due to the colonization of exploitation imposed on Latin countries, by the EU state members.

Such data also clarifies the opening that the continent proposes to other countries that can help its development, and that are not characterized as colonizers, such as China and Russia. For the past 20 years (coincidently the same time that EU was absent on Latin America), China became the most important trading partner amor the continent, replacing the US and the EU,

"I was always surprised how well the Chinese ambassadors [in Latin America] spoke Spanish and how well they understood the local mentality. A whole generation of experts was put into action," she said. "In a way, China has taken our place...”, says the head of Americas division at the European External Action Service.[3]

Apparently, the European Union wants Latin America to serve as a strong geopolitical partner, concerning exports and importations, especially at this time of need, seeing the many tragedies taking place all over the world.

3. Westphalia and the present

A mark on international law that must be addressed to understand the consequences of the colonization in the present in the Peace of Westphalia. This agreement was composed of two peace treaties that brought an end to the Thirty Years War, a conflict between Catholics and Protestants that devastated Europe from the beginning to the middle of the 16th century. This treaty is considered the beginning of international negotiations between countries, since this is aimed at an international balance of powers, ensuring anti-hegemony. In this way, even being sovereign, no State would have power over another, other than its internal organization or its religion.

Clearly, the agreement was not successful on this front, as colonization continued to occur in several countries, especially Latin Americans, in an overbearing manner. Just like the treaty influences international law until this day, dating back to the origins of diplomacy, imposing Catholicism to indigenous people, who were forced to give up their culture/religion and were slaughtered the diseases brought by Europeans and forcing the slave labor on Africans at the sugar cane fields also has current consequences on the way nations deal with their external relations.


Even so, we must learn from the past to improve our future. Seeing the past relations between Europe and the colonized countries still carries open scars from the brute past, it is possible to assuage such hostilities with unity. European countries, bearing their Eurocentric record of arrogance and superiority, must appeal to humility to regain the trust of the countries they so wish for partnership.

“From the perspective of third world peoples, fragmentation results in an alienated international law, produced by the separate and different logic of specialized regulatory spheres.”[4]

Not meaning to affirm that Europeans still carry the intention that their ancestors had when they forcibly exploited many different nations, but they should not ignore the problem, acting as if we all have the same role in the international system or as if part of the problem is not their responsibility. What matters now is to recognize past mistakes, making sure they don’t happen again, to improve the bonds among nations of the world, so we can stand united against dark times.


[1] From: Oxford Public International Law ( (c) Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved.Subscriber: Peace Palace Library; date: 26 October 2022.

[2] Ayuso, A., & et al. (2018). Why should the European Union have any relevance for Latin America and the Caribbean? . EU - LAC Foundation, CRIES. 10.12858.0419EN

[3] Noyan, O. (2022, August 16). Martin Schulz: The EU has neglected Latin America for too long.

[4] See, e.g., Pemmaraju Sreenivasa Rao, ‘Multiple International Judicial Forums: A Reflection of the Growing Strength of International Law or Its Fragmentation?’(2004) 25 Michigan Journal of International Law 929,933.

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