Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

With the mention of South America, youth around the world will immediately think about Pele, Messi or Maracan Stadium. South America, in fact, is much more than that. Many people, particularly our youth, are not very informed about South America. It is home to various wonders of nature, rich cultures, strong economies, abundant resources and very nice people. Riyadh is all set to host the fourth Arab-South American summit in a few days. Leaders and representatives from 22 Arab countries and 12 countries from South America are scheduled to meet and discuss ideas to further strengthen mutual ties. The key summit, better known by its Portuguese and Spanish acronym ASPA, is a bi-regional mechanism for cooperation and political coordination which gathers the 22 member states of the Arab League and 12 countries of South America to promote mutual relations. The summit was proposed by Brazil and its first meeting was held in 2005 in Brasilia, while the second summit was held in Doha in 2009. The last summit was in Lima in October 2012. The objective of the summit is to ensure greater coordination between political leaders and civil society organizations in the Middle East and North Africa region and South American countries. ASPA’s cooperation involves actions organized through five committees for economics, science and technology, environment and social and cultural affairs. The summits were designed to promote mutual relations, but, given the potential of what South American countries can offer, the summit will eventually highlight broader sides of many economic, educational, strategic and political forms of relations. It is true that there is huge geographical distance between the two regions but the goals can be accomplished through modern communication and transportation. The direct flights between some Gulf capitals and major South American capitals were unthinkable in the past but they have become a reality today. South America has a lot to offer. It has the world’s most breathtaking wonders such as the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the highest single drop waterfall Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, the Amazon River which is the largest in the world, the Andes which is the longest mountain range, the amazing Atacama Desert, the largest rainforest, Bolivia’s capital which is the highest capital city and let us not forget the navigational wonder, which is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world (Lake Titicaca). In other words, there is an endless number of natural wonders that promises South America the position of the greatest economic power in the future. This continent covers around 18 million sq. km with a population of around 400 million people. South American countries have a very diverse economy that includes natural resources such as oil, gas and other minerals. South America has one of the most, if not the most, fertile land in the world and a very skilled labor force that can be utilized not only in South America, but also in the Arab world. The history of civilizations in South America dates back to thousands of years. But, when first discovered during the end of the 15th century, it was Spain and Portugal that took over the continent through a treaty known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. Independence from Spain and Portugal was gained few hundreds later. The periods after the independence showed a very powerful rule by the military, which turned many of these countries in absolute dictatorship. And until 30 years ago many of the South American countries were in chaos, which resulted in huge debts and unbearable inflation that resulted in continuous government changes that affected the development of many South American countries. These days, the whole of the continent is moving forward with many visible and modern reforms to their political, economic, social and educational systems. Health care system is gaining momentum and is covering most of the areas of the continent. There are many untapped parts of the continent. Most of the people in the continent live on the side facing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with southern tip and the interior is not heavily populated. Both the Arab world and South America can play big role in bringing stability and prosperity. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. ASPA: Time to Explore New Horizons reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.