The relationship between New Zealand and Latin America (South America, Central America and Mexico) has flourished since the late 20th century. Before that interaction was virtually non-existent. Migration, trade, investment, and geopolitical and diplomatic ties grew particularly rapidly from the late 1990s. During this time New Zealand’s geopolitical gaze broadened from Europe, while Latin America’s diversified from North America.
Kūmara: a vital link?
Little is known of prehistoric relations between South America and New Zealand. However, the kūmara (sweet potato), a traditional Māori food, has its origins in South America, and there may be distant links between Polynesians and the indigenous people of South America.
Diplomatic relations were established between New Zealand and a few Latin American countries after the Second World War, the first being Chile in 1948. It was not until 1972 that the first embassies were founded, with Chile establishing representation in Wellington and New Zealand in Santiago. Despite a cooling of relations during the Chilean dictatorship (1973–90), diplomatic contact continued. During this period many New Zealanders protested against the Chilean dictatorship and supported an unofficial boycott of Chilean goods.
Argentina established an embassy in Wellington in 1977, but the relationship was broken in 1982 when New Zealand supported the UK in its conflict with Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. A consulate was reopened in Auckland in 1987 and a full embassy in Wellington in 1997. New Zealand has had an ambassador in Argentina since 1998.
Other Latin American countries to open embassies in New Zealand have included Mexico (1991), Brazil (1997) and Peru (until 2010). As well as in Argentina and Chile, New Zealand has direct representation in Mexico (since 1983) and Brazil (since 2001), as well as diplomatic relations with and indirect representation (honorary consuls) in Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
There have been two main waves of migration from Latin America to New Zealand. During the 1970s and 1980s, many people came as political refugees escaping brutal goverments. The second wave began in the 1990s and was mainly economic migrants. New Zealand still received some refugees from Latin America, principally from Colombia, where civil war continued. Most migrants settled in the major cities, although Queenstown has a vibrant South American community, many of whom are employed in the tourism and hospitality industries. There are relatively few New Zealanders living and working in Latin America, with the majority in Chile and Brazil.
Queenstown’s Latino fiesta
In March 2010 Queenstown hosted its inaugural South American festival. It was the brainchild of Nadia Hughes, who worked at a local language school. She hoped it would make South Americans feel more at home in Queenstown. The festival featured Latino dance, food and music. Hughes hoped it would become an annual event, getting bigger and bigger every year.
Latin American migration has been bolstered by the creation in 2001 of working holiday schemes that allow people under the age of 30 to work for 12 months in participant countries. In 2011 signatories included Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay. This has increased the number of temporary migrants significantly, as around 2,500 South Americans work under the scheme in New Zealand in any given year, with 1,000 each coming from Chile and Argentina.