CADIZ, Spain (AP) â¿¿ In an historic role reversal, recession-hit Spain and Portugal on Friday courted the Latin American leaders of their former colonies, countries that now enjoy some of the strongest economic growth in the world.
Spain's King Juan Carlos opened the annual Iberoamerican summit, which brings together the heads of Spain and Portugal and the leaders of Latin America to discuss political issues and arrange business deals.
As heads of state from Mexico to Chile arrived in the Spanish port city of Cadiz, where conquistadores centuries ago unloaded riches taken from the former colonies, economic forecasters confirmed that Latin America will continue to grow at a fast clip despite the global economic slowdown.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that the Latin American economy will shrink slightly from 4.4 percent this year to a still robust 3.2 percent in 2013, accelerating to 4 percent the following year. Spain and Portugal, meanwhile, are in deep recessions expected to last into next year and hit by frequent protests over government cutbacks and higher taxes aimed at keeping the countries economically afloat. Portugal has needed a bailout for its public finances and Spain one for its banks. The summit started two days after hundreds of thousands of Spaniards protested Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's attempts to rein in the budget. On Friday afternoon, police in Cadiz fired rubber bullets at shipyard workers trying to disrupt the summit with a demonstration against mass layoffs. The incident only slowed traffic in Cadiz for about an hour, and the leaders greeted each other in the evening at the historic San Felipe Neri Oratory church where Spain's first constitution was signed in 1812. After an elegant dinner hosted by the king, participants were to talk Saturday about the financial crisis. Before the ceremony, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso met with Rajoy to discuss the upcoming EU budget for 2014-2020 which, if passed at an EU meeting next week, would see Spain lose â¿¬20 billion ($25.5 billion) in subsidies and become for the first time a net contributor to EU funds.