Spain Asks Latin American Nations for Help Amid Financial Woes

Once the rulers of much of what was called the New World, Spain is now asking its former colonies for help to overcome a deep financial crisis by channeling investments its way.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Spain had invested heavily in Latin America when it suffered a crisis 10 years ago, and now that the roles were reversed, he called upon those nations to increase their participation in his country's economy.

"Spain receives Latin American investment with open arms," he said.

Rajoy was speaking at the Iberoamerican summit being held in Spain's southwestern port of Cadiz, once the country's gateway for importing Aztec and Inca treasure.

King Juan Carlos made the same plea Friday, saying "our eyes turn to you, we need more Latin America."

He added that Spain had "seen difficult situations emerge caused by the financial and economic crisis."

One such difficulty could be seen almost simultaneously on the streets of Madrid, where more than 5,000 police officers rallied to protest government austerity measures, including frozen pensions and the elimination of their Christmas bonus.

José Maria Benito, a spokesman for Spain's Unified Police Union, said police were worried that budget cuts meant that working conditions were more precarious, that law enforcement equipment was not adequate and that the 15,000 officers who had left the force were not being replaced.

Meanwhile, some 3,500 police guarded the leaders gathered in the former imperial port of Cadiz at the annual summit, which brings together Latin America leaders with the heads of former colonial powers Spain and Portugal to discuss political issues and arrange business deals.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa criticized the austerity measures implemented by the European Union, saying they were repeating mistakes Latin America made a decade ago.

Bolivia also took on Chile at the gathering, demanding that it restore the landlocked nation's access to the Pacific Ocean, which it lost following a 1879-1883 war between Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Bolivian President Evo Morales called for his Chilean counterpart, Sebastián Piñera, to abandon "conservative positions" and agree to negotiate.

"Chilean diplomacy closes ranks when it comes to addressing Bolivia's claim," he said.

Piñera responded that a treaty was signed when Bolivia lost the war.

"Chile has met, meets and will continue to meet what is set out in that treaty," Piñera said, adding that Bolivia had free access to Chile's ports.

Morales also asked for support for his country's proposals to end a U.N. treaty banning the chewing of coca leaves, a custom practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Andes since before Columbus' arrival.

A mild stimulant, the leaves have deep cultural and religious value in the region. Chewed or consumed as tea, coca counters altitude sickness, aids digestion and suppresses hunger and fatigue.

The leaves have however been stigmatized as the raw material of cocaine, and the United States opposes ending the ban.

On a related topic, Mexican President Felipe Calderón was critical of votes in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado to legalize marijuana for recreational use, saying that his country could not afford to take even "one step back" from fighting drug trafficking.

"We are particularly concerned about the violence associated with these drugs," said Calderón, who made combating drugs one of the cornerstones of his mandate.

King Juan Carlos of Spain declared the summit closed following its afternoon session.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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