It was a strange new world for Spain and Portugal as they began their annual meeting Friday with their former colonies: For the first time, Latin America is growing strong and the Europeans are looking for help.
"It's a good time for Latin America, and the summit should serve to strengthen ties between all the participating countries," said Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, one of the first leaders to arrive in Paraguay's capital for the 23-nation IberoAmerican Conference.
In the past, Latin American nations were the economic weaklings and looking for aid. Now Spain and Portugal's economies are struggling and their former colonies are growing strong with average economic growth of 6 percent a year despite the global slowdown. Migration from Europe to Latin America has been up sharply as a result.
"For the first time, Latin America is not part of the problem, but part of the solution," said the group's secretary general, Uruguayan economist Enrique Iglesias.
But several experts told the conference that Latin America should be doing much better.
"Investment is low, which generates factories of inequality, and has us advancing at a tortoise's pace. We're not getting anywhere," said Alicia Barcena, who runs the United Nations' commission on economics for Latin America and the Caribbean. Angel Gurria, secretary of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, called for governments to demand more from those with higher incomes.
"The region should transform its growth into socially sustainable development. But in general the countries have taxes that aren't high enough. In the case of Paraguay, taxation is just 13 percent, so you can't ask much of the government," he said.
Spain's secretary of state for international cooperation, Soraya Rodriguez, made a similar argument. "Latin America needs strong governments, with a high quality of life, security and a gradual taxation system that rises to at least 33 percent (of income). It should approach fiscal reforms with courage."
Despite the region's strong growth, one in three Latin Americans lives in poverty _ a total of 180 million people _ and 10 of the region's countries are among the world's 15 with the most unequal incomes, Gurria said. That makes them vulnerable to the ups and downs of the global economy, he said.
Spain's king, Juan Carlos, also flew in, but the summit has proven to be the least attended in the group's history, with 10 member presidents finding one reason or another to stay home.
Haiti's foreign minister, Laurent Lamothe, did attend, to ask for Haiti to be accepted as a full member and to seek foriegn investment in his impoverished Caribbean nation.
"Although we speak French, we're an Afro-Latino country," Lamothe said.