SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic: Twenty-two countries signed a declaration at the Ibero-American Summit in the Dominican Republic on Saturday committing to fight food insecurity in Latin America, improve migration controls and negotiate more financial support for the region's struggling economies. The goal is to reach "zero hunger" across Latin America, said Andres Allamand, a former Chilean minister and the current Ibero-American secretary general.

"We have more or less 60 million people who face food security problems. One-third of the food produced in the region is wasted" due to problems in distribution, storage or marketing chains, he added. But the agreement, made by leaders of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America and Europe, faces serious challenges.

Growth projections for Latin America are below two percent, and the cost of a basic healthy diet is the highest in the world -- $3.89 per day per person, compared with $3.19 in North America and Europe. It is a price that 22.5 percent of the population cannot afford, according to the United Nations.

"Access to healthy food should be a right, not a privilege for a few," Bolivian President Luis Arce said, stressing the impact of climate change on food production. Several leaders agreed that more favorable financial support would help countries reduce hunger and fight global warming.

"The Ibero-American countries will work as one bloc to negotiate better conditions," Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader said. "We are witnessing an international scenario characterized by high and unsustainable levels of debt that determines the growth of our countries," said Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, whose country is struggling to emerge from a deep economic crisis.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric, meanwhile, also called for greater coordination in tackling the region's migration crisis, and Colombian President Gustavo Petro proposed organizing a summit focused specifically on the issue. Leaders also discussed the need to address the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, where violent gangs have killed around 530 people and kidnapped another 300 since January, according to the UN. "The international community cannot allow this situation to continue," said President Abinader, whose country, the Dominican Republic, borders Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.

The summit's debates were also marked by some heated exchanges.

Boric at one point criticized the "family dictatorship of (Daniel) Ortega and (Rosario) Murillo in Nicaragua." "Democracy aside, there is no possibility of freedom or dignity (in Nicaragua)," he said. "We see in the world new risks... we must respond with more democracy, not less." - AFP

Addressing a food crisis affecting a fifth of Latin America's population featured high on the agenda of an Ibero-American leaders summit that started in the Dominican Republic on Friday. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region of the world where eating a basic healthy diet is most expensive-at $3.89 per person per day in 2020, compared to $3.19 in North America and Europe. It is a price that 22.5 percent of the region's population cannot afford, according to the UN-more than 130 million people in 2020.

Heads of state and government from 14 of the 22 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America and Europe, were due to attend the two-day summit. Spain's King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa are among those gathered in Santo Domingo with the leaders of Chile, Uruguay, Honduras and others. The surprise attendance of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro was announced by a master of ceremonies listing the arrival of leaders.

It is the first time Maduro has taken part in the summit since he came to power in 2013. Since his re-election in 2018, his legitimacy has been questioned by several members of the forum, including Spain, Ecuador and Paraguay. Maduro was absent from the opening ceremony, but was expected to participate in discussions.

Fairer, more inclusive

Latin America, which faces a "difficult" 2023 according to predictions by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), will be hoping the meeting results in more support for its struggling economies. Financing will be "a central point," the Dominican Republic's deputy minister of multilateral foreign policy, Ruben Silie, said at a press conference this week.

Much current financing "does not take into account the crisis situation that our countries are experiencing," he added. "They do not respond adequately to the indebtedness of the countries and... the burden of the health crisis and later the crisis in Europe," Silie said, referring to the Ukraine war.

The Ibero-American group's secretary general, Andres Allamand, said the summit should approve "a roadmap that marks the path towards food security" and charters dealing with technological threats and environmental protection. It should also adopt "a proposal for a fairer and more inclusive international financial architecture that allows financing the post-pandemic recovery," he said in a statement.

The meeting will also serve as preparation for a July summit of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the European Union, according to Mariano de Alba, an analyst with the Crisis Group think tank. "Many issues on the agenda of this Ibero-American summit will be the main ones of the July summit," he told AFP. These include to "strengthen ties and coordination between Europe and the region to address three issues: food security, environmental challenges and how to cooperate to increase access to technology."

The IDB had forecast economic growth of 1.0 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean. The International Monetary Fund has put the figure at 1.8 percent. Among the notable summit absentees is Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who also did not send his foreign minister but an under-secretary. According to De Alba, this reflected tensions between Spain and Mexico after Lopez Obrador accused Spanish firms of having paid bribes in his country in the past in exchange for contracts. - AFP