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A role reversal as former colonies meet former colonists at Ibero-American summit

Spain and Portugal, once the heavy hitters in the annual meeting of Iberian and Latin American nations, are now looking to their one-time colonies for help amid their debt crisis.

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Ibero-American foreign ministers pose for a group photo during the 22nd Ibero-American summit in Cadiz, Spain, today. Leaders meeting at the summit face a relationship that has changed profoundly in the past few years, with impoverished Spain and Portugal hoping that booming Latin America can help lift them out of economic crisis.

Marcelo del Pozo/Reuters

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On Friday in the historic Spanish port city of Cádiz, the leaders of Spain, Portugal, and Latin American nations gathered for the 22nd annual Ibero-American summit. But unlike past meetings, the European nations are no longer running the show: now the former colonists are seeking help from their empowered cousins.

The tables have turned since the 2007 edition, when King Juan Carlos infamously said “Why don’t you be quiet” to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a moment which came to represent Spain’s arrogance and Latin American muscle flexing. Today, Spain and Portugal are in dire economic shape and will remain crippled for at least another couple of years, if not more.

In contrast, Latin America is consolidating its political and economic transition toward stability, despite strong headwind from the global slowdown. Eighteen heads of state will attend, including economic powerhouses Brazil and Mexico, as well as the rising emerging powers Chile, Colombia, and Peru.

The main goal of the summit is to “propel renewed relations,” Prince Felipe, Spanish heir to the throne, said recently, echoing the message pushed by organizers. Relations can be transformed by strengthening ties already in place and by “opening new frontiers that are good in this juncture that Spain and Portugal are living,” said Enrique Iglesias, the Ibero-American secretary general, in a Q&A published in Spanish media this week.

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