Italy-Latin America between solidarity and disinterest: the story of a fluctuating relationship

When he took a month off in 1984 to take part in a volunteer camp in Nicaragua, his colleagues at the Lecco factory looked down on him: almost no one knew that state with an exotic name, everyone thought it was a “burn” madness. so on summer vacation. In the Central American country where the Sandinistas had triumphed, the spark of a passion that marked the life of Donato Di Santo, one of the greatest Italian experts in Latin America, was ignited: “For the first time, those events showed everyone that revolution is not in contrast to democracy, “he said today.

The Italy-Latin America conference
Few in Italy know so deeply about the political and cultural nodes of Latin American states. The Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of the second Prodi government has published the book “Italy and Latin America. History of a foreign policy idea ”(246 pages, 28 euros), published by Donzelli. The volume reconstructs the stages of the creation, in 2003, of an unprecedented foreign policy instrument for Latin America: the Italy-Latin America and the Caribbean Conference, of which Di Santo was coordinator, a biennial meeting which brings together institutions from different states, companies, economy and finance, but also non-governmental organizations. A high-level appointment that has become an essential part of our foreign policy if, as Di Santo writes, “no executive, among the many and very different ones that have taken place in these nearly twenty years, is not “He didn’t even think about doing it.” or reject it. Relations between Italy and Latin America are characterized by different phases that have ranged from “great closeness, solidarity and understanding” to “superficial disinterest”.

The encounter with the guerrillas
In the late 1980s, Di Santo was commissioned by the PCI to establish political relations with Latin America, an area that had hitherto been “discovered”, also with a view to the creation of a socialist international. The delivery is precise: we must have a dialogue with everyone, not just the other communist parties. From here began relations with politicians, trade unionists, businessmen but also chaplains and guerrilla militants. “My first experience was in 1989 in Colombia,” he recalls, “where a bloody civil war was being waged. I met the militants of the Patriotic Union, the party that the FARC intended to use to rejoin civilian life. I came into contact with the guerrillas and a world opened up to me. “

Guatemala’s turning point
Guatemala in the 1980s, in the midst of a bloody civil war, represents an important milestone on its way to Latin America: “We opened up relations with the guerrillas, even though we were light years away from this approach. But we had to accompany them in some way because it was a popular guerrilla, who fought with arms to reach a peace agreement, not to seize power and guillotine the caudillo in turn.

Expulsion from Cuba
Di Santo’s resume also includes an expulsion from Cuba, dated 2001. “I attended the Sao Paulo Forum meeting as a PDS delegate,” he recalls. In my free days I would visit dissidents who believed in democracy but did not want to live under a regime. You are all in the sunlight. One morning a group of military police called his hotel room: “I was given 24 hours to leave the country, the weather was very tense. The ambassador welcomed me to the embassy until I returned to Italy.

The relationship with Lula
Among the Latin American leaders to whom Di Santo is most attached is the Brazilian Lula: they share, in addition to the political path, the common past as metallurgists in the factory. “He also had a work accident, a turn cut off his little finger.” Every time they see each other, a playful ritual is repeated: Di Santo shows him his ten fingers, as if to say, “I was a worker too, but I was better than you.”

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