LONDON — There was a time when Europe regarded Latin America as a stagnant economic backwater, dependent on selling its natural resources to pay its debts and ruled over by a variety of disagreeable despots.
These days, it is the Latin economies that are moving ahead while their European counterparts are struggling to dig themselves out of debt and recession.
Leaders from Latin America and Europe are meeting in Santiago, Chile, this weekend to discuss updating a close and longstanding relationship to better reflect the new global economic realities.
At a summit meeting of the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union, government leaders from Europe will face calls for a more equal partnership in what has in the past been seen as a one-sided relationship.
Sebastián Piñera, the Chilean president and host of the summit talks, told members of parliament from the two blocs this week: “What we are seeking is a new strategic alliance, a new era in the relations between the two continents.”
The Europeans have traditionally been big investors in Latin economies, with the European Union accounting for 40 percent of the total in the past decade, or around $30 billion a year.
However, faced with a harsh economic climate, countries like Spain are now the ones looking for investment from Latin America, while European job seekers are looking for a brighter future in places like Brazil.
Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, told my colleague Raphael Minder in November: “For years you had capital going from north to south and immigration going from south to north and what we are increasingly going to see is a reverse of the flows.”
Alicia Bárcena Ibarra of Mexico, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, warned ahead of the Santiago summit meeting that Europe could be facing the kind of “lost decade” that Latin American countries confronted 30 years ago.
In those days, countries in the region found themselves deep in debt after taking on loans from Western banks that were eager to recycle petrodollars from oil producers whose coffers were overflowing in the wake of the 1970s oil price explosion.
“The South is no longer the same,” Ms. Bárcena said. “Europe is going to find a different and a changed Latin America. That means taking on new global challenges with responsibility and dealing with issues such as climate change and financial security.”
Outlining Latin America’s agenda, for a more balanced relationship with Europe, she said: “We want foreign investment that helps us modernize our production structure, that contributes to employment, that helps us care for the environment and that respects social rights.”
Europe also has an interest in bolstering the relationship. Although the E.U. ranks as the region’s second largest trading partner after the United States, China is expected to overtake it in the coming years.
“Europe needs new markets, and Latin America needs European-style small and medium-sized enterprises,” The Guardian said in an editorial last month.
Despite recent economic advances in Latin America, parts of the region continue to suffer from extremes of poverty and underdevelopment.
Álvaro Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian commentator who asked this week what was the purpose of the summit meeting, pointed out that the region’s growth rate hid some huge differences among states, as did their separate development models.
“What Cuba and Venezuela understand by democracy has nothing to do with how it is understood by Mexico or Colombia,” he wrote. “What Argentina understands as the market economy is almost the opposite of how Colombia understands it.”