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India Motors into Central America and the Caribbean

Hari Seshasayee

India’s global ambitions were on display at the G20 Summit earlier this month, as New Delhi hosted leaders from the United States, France, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, Brazil, and the presidents of the European Union and African Union. Although many analysts feared that such a large and diverse group would be unable to agree on subjects as divisive as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, India helped negotiate a joint statement released on the first day of the summit.

Now, India has the responsibility of handing off the G20 agenda to Brazil, the third Latin American country to preside over the G20, following Mexico in 2012 and Argentina in 2018. Helpfully, New Delhi and Brasília already have a productive relationship. In fact, the G20 has deepened India’s ties to all three Latin American members. For example, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico were once overseen by India’s deputy foreign minister; now, the foreign minister directly manages those relationships.

But India’s ties to Latin America increasingly extend beyond the region’s three largest countries.

India is quietly building relationships with the region’s smallest nations, in Central America and the Caribbean. ”

In fact, India is quietly building relationships with the region’s smallest nations, in Central America and the Caribbean. Lately, Indian TV programs and newspapers are carrying stories about Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and Guyana, including interviews with ministers and ambassadors and televised debates on India’s regional diplomatic strategy. This unprecedented attention is the result of the India-Latin America Conclave, held in New Delhi last month. More than ten ministers from Central America and the Caribbean participated, accompanied by large business delegations. (Ministers from Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela also attended.)

The conclave, the only gathering of its kind, is significant not only for the attention it generates, but because it promotes dialogue and mutual understanding. That is necessary, as India’s relationships in Central America and the Caribbean are relatively new. India has diplomatic missions in only two Central American countries and six in the Caribbean. Ten Central American and Caribbean nations have diplomatic missions in India. Of these 18 diplomatic missions, nine opened in the last two decades. The new diplomatic missions are small, often home to only five officers or fewer. But they have become far more active in recent years, organizing business delegations, cultural events, and academic exchanges.

The burst of Indian diplomatic activity is the handiwork of India’s foreign minister, S Jaishankar. As the first career diplomat to be named India’s foreign minister, Jaishankar knows that India has long neglected this part of the world. He also understands that to become a global power, India needs a global presence.

In the past two years, Jaishankar has visited eight Latin American countries. Previously, the last time an Indian foreign minister had visited the region, other than for an international summit, was in 2003. When Jaishankar visited Guyana, Panama, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, he was the first Indian foreign minister to set foot in those countries. During his visits, Panama hosted an India-SICA ministerial meeting and Guyana organized an India-CARICOM conference.

Business often follows politics. In Guatemala, for example, after India opened an embassy in 2009, Indian companies thronged to Central America’s most populous country.” 

The foreign minister’s travels lay the groundwork for deepening relations, such as opening new embassies and consulates and deploying more diplomats. That would in turn help strengthen commercial ties. After all, business often follows politics. In Guatemala, for example, after India opened an embassy in 2009, Indian companies thronged to Central America’s most populous country. Today, Indian technology firms employ more than 4,000 Guatemalans. Indian pharmaceutical and packaging businesses have opened large offices in the country. Indian brands dominate the local motorcycle market.

The same could happen elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean. Indian companies have the potential to help develop the region’s value-added sectors, particularly information technology, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing. In doing so, India would vastly expand its regional workforce, which already numbers about 10,000 people in Central America and the Caribbean, promoting economic recovery in an otherwise challenging era.


About the Author

Hari Seshasayee

Hari Seshasayee

Former Global Fellow;
Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Panama and Asia-Latin America Expert, UNDP
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Latin America Program

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