Norway’s academics keen to build on ties with Latin America

Norwegian universities and academics are ramping up efforts to reach out to their counterparts in the Latin America region in order to collaborate over common challenges.

In a bid to explore the relationship between the two regions, the University of Bergen (UiB) is organising an international conference in collaboration with a group of 11 international partners under the title “Winds of Change and Streams of Solidarity: Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe in the 21st Century” to be held in early September.

The gathering will have a particular focus on water as a transversal theme in areas such as culture and arts, democracy, the environment and technology and health. Organisers are counting on the presence of all the nine Latin American and Caribbean embassies in Norway: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.


According to Associate Professor Ernesto Semán from Argentina, who has been working at the University of Bergen (UiB) since 2018 and is doing research on social and environmental transformations around the history of salmon farming in Chile, extended cooperation between Europe and the region is important because of what he called “entanglements”.

“It’s because of entanglements ... Climate change has made visible what for many has been obvious for ages: from food to technology to nature to politics – it’s hard to understand them isolated.”

Semán said the undertones of Norway’s current opening to the outside world are those of “economic domination and political influence” associated with its power.

“This is clearer in Latin America than anywhere else. From lithium to water to oil to gas to avocado, the notion of a region as an infinite reservoir of resources for Norwegian wellbeing crashes against the reality of a region that is producing robust answers to the problems that consumption and economic expansion generate,” he said.

Lessons from Latin America

Asked what Norwegian students could learn from visiting Latin America or the Caribbean, Semán listed three things.

“Obvious one: language. From dominant Spanish to hundreds of indigenous languages to Portuguese to Haitian creole – [there is] an audible expression of an infinite cultural diversity,” he said.

Second on the list was “perspective”.

“I remember one of my Norwegian students was shocked to see that ‘normal’ mountains were 5,000 meters high,” he said.

The third was lessons from history.

“Norway is going through significant transformations, as wealth, transnationalisation, and inequality are on the rise. There’s a lot to learn from Latin American society and history about the challenges ahead in terms of political ideas and the innermost social fabric of a different ‘politics of affect’,” he said.

On the conference programme committee is Ana Lorena Ruano, a sociologist with a PhD in Public Health from Umeå University, Sweden and a researcher at the Center for International Health at the University of Bergen, Norway, where she leads the Strengthening Agency and Learning across Health Systems in the Americas (SALHSA) project focused on building capacity among early-career academics, civil society and policy and decision-makers from Latin America’s relevant public health bodies.

Ruano told University World News the richness of Latin America lies in its diversity, its burgeoning economies, and the untapped potential of its many universities, many of which have centuries-long traditions of knowledge production.

Testing ground for innovation

“When it comes to health, Latin America has been a testing ground for innovation. New models of health system financing, of service provision, of partnerships between public and private providers all create important opportunities for learning on both sides of the Atlantic.

“By working closely together, and by creating spaces for the production and exchange of knowledge, better ways of caring for our populations can be found,” she said.

Professor Benedicte Bull at the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo and president of the board of the Nordic Institute for Latin American Studies in Stockholm, said it was important that the University of Bergen was again pushing ahead with collaboration with Latin-America.

“After collaboration was prioritised for a period 10 to 15 years ago, Latin America has been sidelined [in Norway] during the later years,” she said.

“The European Union had a large top-level meeting in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) this summer, and Latin America is now regarded as a strategic raw material superpower over the next decades.

“Despite this, neither academia nor Norwegian authorities have any focus on the region, except for two or three specific initiatives,” she said.

Bull said it was “particularly important” that Javier Niño Pérez, deput managing director of the European External Action Service’s relations with Latin-America and the Caribbean, is one of the conference speakers. “The importance of the conference will depend on how it is followed-up by new collaboration initiatives, both from the universities and by the government,” he said.

‘The world is more than Europe’

Rector of the University of Bergen, Professor Margareth Hagen, told University World News it was important to remember that the “world is more than Europe”.

“For our university and the science and higher education sector, it is important to develop cooperation with partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not the least for the transition to a greener and fairer international society. For the University of Bergen this is also a reinvigoration of our ties to our many partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Echoing Hagen’s emphasis on looking beyond Europe, Hans Egil Offerdal, who is a senior adviser for international affairs and a coordinator of UiB’s conference, said: “We should remember that Europe counts for less than 10% of the world’s population. Thus, Europe needs the rest of the world much more than the rest of the world needs Europe.”

Offerdal said eight Amazonas rainforest nations met recently in Brazil to find solutions to the protection of the Amazon and to look at the crucial transition to green energy.

“That story has largely been ignored by mainstream media, for example here in Norway. That tells us something about the lack of perspective. It also points to the phenomenon of today’s contradiction between an interconnected, globalised world which at the same time is becoming more and more compartmentalised due to nationalism and xenophobia,” he said.

Latin America as a ‘vital player’

Professor Bert Hoffmann, lead researcher at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) and co-leader of the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies and head of GIGA’s Berlin Office, told University World News that Latin America had returned as a “vital player” in turbulent global politics.

Hoffman, who is also professor of political science at Freie Universität Berlin and the German-Latin American Centre of Infection and Epidemiology Research and Training (GLACIER) and will deliver a keynote address at the upcoming meeting, said: “As policymakers from Europe as much as from Latin America and the Caribbean seek to give new impulses to bilateral relations, the strong academic ties between both regions are a key asset to build on.

“The conference at UiB is an important step to further develop a bi-regional research agenda that addresses shared concerns of development, democracy, health and environment.”

The conference also includes the presence of the Roman Curia (The Vatican) official Emilce Cuda from the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Offerdal said having the Vatican as a part of the scholarly conversation is important since the Catholic Church is still a major actor in Latin American and Caribbean societies. The current Pope has been very focused on a holistic approach to human society, the environment and conservation of the planet, as expressed in Laudato Si’, the 2015 papal document on the environment.

“Dr Cuda is among today’s finest academic interpreters of the thinking of Pope Francis. The fact that she also is the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America makes her a central discussion partner in the much-needed debate between politics, civil society, academy, business, and the young generations in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, in order to save the future of humanity and the planet,” said Offerdal.