By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – King Juan Carlos I of Spain arrived in Brazil this week for high-level meetings aimed at strengthening bilateral economic ties with Brazil. Although mutual business interests, new deals and the Eurozone crisis comprised the official agenda, the ongoing immigration issues were also addressed, with both countries reaffirming their respect for each other.
After arriving in Brasília on Monday, the 74-year-old monarch met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and a number of ministers, including the Minister of External Relations Antonio Patriota.
Rousseff said “the spirit of mutual understanding and admiration which brings Brazilians and Spaniards closer together has continued to strengthen.”
Spain is currently the second biggest foreign investor in Brazil and, according to the Ministry, last year bilateral trade reached over R$16.2 billion (nearly US$8 billion), up twenty percent on 2010.
Also taking part in the visit are high-profile business figures from Spain – including those from Spain’s flag carrier Iberia Airlines, telecom giant Telefónica (which trades in Brazil as Vivo) and Santander, the Eurozone’s largest bank – who are all keen to looking to sign more deals in Brazil.
It was also reported that the two countries are set to work together to explore opportunities in markets in Asia and the Middle East in the future, building on the already growing interest in Latin America from China.
But despite words of mutual respect and strengthened ties, Brazil wants assurances from Spain that it is doing everything in its power to avert disaster in Spain and the Eurozone, given the impact of both on Brazil’s economy.
Due to uncertainty and the poor economic outlook in Europe, there has been an influx of Spanish workers coming to Brazil in search of employment. According to the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the number of work visas granted to Spanish professionals increased 30.4 percent between 2010 and 2011.
With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the recent tit-for-tat deportations – which started four years ago after it was revealed that over a thousand Brazilians had been refused entry into Spain in the first three months of 2008 for failing to have the correct documents – drew focus from bilateral business deals.
Following talks both leaders were keen to show progress had been made on the subject, and King Juan Carlos I insisted that Spain’s “Brazilian friends are welcome in Spain” and that “the Spanish authorities are taking steps to make it easier and quicker” for Brazilians to enter the country.
Visa and naturalization specialist, Visto Brasil, say the friction began when Spain toughened its stance on Brazilian migration, but that the detentions and deportations of Brazilians from Spain have continued until now, and official figures show 299 refused entries for the first three months of 2012.
Menelaw Sete, an artist from Bahia, was barred from entering Spain along with six other Brazilians in May this year: ”The experience was completely humiliating. I’ve traveled around Europe for fifteen years and I’ve never been treated like this. I won’t be going to Spain for quite some time now – I’m still in shock,” he said, speaking to The Rio Times from Salvador.
And as of April 2012, Brazil has begun reciprocal measures, deporting 31 Spanish citizens arriving in Brazil in the first month after the new position was adopted. Currently neither country requires a visa for visitors arriving as tourists, but documents – such as an invitation letter, a return ticket, and proof you can support yourself financially – can be required.