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Latin America Boosting Ties With Africa

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, center left, speaks with a translator as he participates in a World Social Forum event with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, right, at Place du Souvenir in Dakar, Senegal, Feb 7, 2011

Visits to Senegal this week by Bolivian President Evo Morales and Brazil's ex-President Lula da Silva highlight what analysts say is Latin America's growing geopolitical interest in Africa.

The cries of "Olé" that pierced the Senegalese air before a rally Monday are an exotic noise to this continent that boasts only one Spanish-speaking country, and but a handful of countries that use the Portuguese colonial tongue shared by ex-Brazilian president Lula da Silva.

But when the former Brazilian president came for a speech in Senegal, hundreds of Spanish-speaking well-wishers came with him, from activists draped in South American flags, to Guatemala Mayan women, and even Evo Morales the first indigenous President of Bolivia.

Their arrival comes at a time when analysts say Latin America is increasing ties with the continent to the east.

The two landmasses share cash crops, and a history of 15th through 19th century colonial exploitation followed by 20th-century military rule.

But in the 21st century, da Silva says, they share new opportunities due to tremendous economic growth.

He says in the 29 countries he visited as president, he has been struck by the vitality with which Africa is affirming itself as the master of its destiny.

The continent, he said, is more relevant than ever to developing nations like Brazil. And while the former Portuguese colony is by far Latin America's most active player on the continent, it is setting an example that other regional leaders are following.

For Morales, Africa is a place where Latin Americans can find link-minded people who have been oppressed by many of the same global forces.

He says that "you here in Africa, my brothers sisters, at a certain point, you were beaten, colonized, forced to work by forces coming from Europe. But you should know that we too were conquered and humiliated by European forces," he says.

Eurasia Group's Africa Analyst Anne Frauhauf says countries like Bolivia have not yet found a way to leverage the history they share with Africa into an overall strategy for boosting South Atlantic ties.

But that will change, she says, as economic growth on both continents inspire trade, travel, and political cooperation between across the ocean.

Already, she says, Brazil is "leading the charge" with a focus on boosting agriculture and health services on the continent.

"In general, I think it's seen as a very important opportunity for African governments," said Frauhauf. "Brazil is one of the most exciting emerging economies. In some ways it comes with less of some of the baggage associated with China. It is going to be a very important middle-ground player in this sort of scramble for Africa."

During president Lula's eight-year term, she says Brazil doubled the number of embassies in Africa and increased trade with the continent five-fold. She adds the country also is pushing its commercial banks to lend to African infrastructure projects.