[Member spoke in Spanish]
Mr. Speaker, I certainly have a very strong tie to Latin America, in fact many strong ties to Latin America. That is why I am here to speak in support of Latin American heritage month. I think this is something very important for Canadians, and certainly for Canadians of Latin American descent.
My ties are many. They go back, first of all, to much leisure time spent exploring Latin America with my family. We find that it has a very rich culture. We enjoy the food, the geography, the beaches, the ruins, the churches, and the climate. It is a wonderful place to go, a wonderful place to visit.
There is Mexico, for example, but in addition, other places where I have had the opportunity to serve as a diplomat for Canada. First of all was Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is just a gorgeous country, a gorgeous place. I was very fortunate to reside in a lovely community called Recoleta. It was wonderful to spend time there learning the culture and its rich history in terms of culinary experience, fashion, and the many good things it has to offer.
I also had the very good fortune to serve as the chargé d'affaires for the Government of Canada in El Salvador for two years. That was an incredible experience, an incredible opportunity. I really came to love the Salvadoran people, and pupusas as well, a delicious treat. It was a wonderful time for me and is another reason I very much love Latin America.
I had the honour and privilege to work for the sponsor of this bill, my colleague, the former minister, and still member of Parliament for Thornhill, while serving as his policy adviser when he served as the minister of state for foreign affairs. I remember very fondly our good times in Latin America. I remember going to Honduras to negotiate, after the coup, with the Organization of American States and the special times we shared together in Latin America. That is another reason I am very proud to speak to this bill and to encourage my colleagues to support this bill.
As I mentioned, I have a history of diplomacy in Latin America. Latin America is very much known for the warmth of its people. I am very pleased, every time I go to Latin American countries, to have the opportunity to meet more people from the region. I developed some very close friendships, in my time in the diplomatic corps, with many Latin Americans, relationships I continue to this day.
I actually very much appreciate the formality of diplomacy in Latin America. This is a place that honours tradition, respects roles, and respects a history of tradition and diplomacy in the region. A fond memory I have is when I received my accreditation in El Salvador as the chargé d'affaires. I remember being whisked through the streets of San Salvador in a motorcade. It was just incredible. I remember ascending the steps of the presidential palace. The president and the first lady were there to greet me with such warmth and such hospitality as the new chargé d'affaires with the ambassador at the time.
Latin America really has a special place in my heart. I always joke that part of me is Latina. I very much love and cherish this region.
Unfortunately, I will say that Latin America is not without its historic challenges, and there are many of them. We certainly know that the decades of the 20th century were filled with oppression by a number of dictators. For example, I think of Pinochet in Chile and the oppressive regime of that time. In Argentina, I cannot help but think of Videla and the oppressive regime created during that time.
There were definitely some challenges within this region. In addition to dictators, I could also mention the oligarchy, which has ruled its people through time.
In addition to these oppressive regimes, there have been the unfortunate circumstances of terrible civil war within Latin America. I think, for example, of Colombia and the FARC, and the disarray this created within that country, the drugs and murders as a result of this civil war, the instability and, the poverty that these situations brought to a nation, which is very tragic for its people.
I cannot help but mention the civil war in El Salvador that lasted for so many years with the FMLN, which, interestingly enough, went on to govern. When I was there, it was the time of ARENA, which was more right wing, so I was favourable to that. I was very proud to be there for the celebration in El Salvador of the 15-year end of the civil war. This was very monumental and it was very special for me.
If there was something good to come of these unfortunate circumstances, it was that these Latin Americans, in these hard times of oppression and civil war, looked for somewhere else to go, and one of those places was Canada. We were very proud, as a country and as Canadians, to welcome American Latinos with open arms, and we continue to do this.
I cannot describe the respect and love that many Latin Americans have for Canada. When I was the chargée des affaires in El Savador, I could not get my nails done without someone asking me about a visa in an effort to come to Canada. The people loved Canada so much and they wanted to visit or be part of the country. It is very special.
What a gift these people have been to Canada. My own riding of Calgary Midnapore has welcomed so many engineers, geologists, people who have contributed to our rich natural resources sector. I believe at last count in 2016, almost 500,000 people considered themselves to be of Latin American origin residing in Canada. For me, it is very special to honour these people, their heritage, and all that they bring to Canada in having searched for a better life.
It is with sadness that the effects of these oppressive dictatorships and the civil war have lasted. Throughout the time I was in my colleague's office as a policy adviser, we were still watching ALBA. We were looking for the Bolivarian influences. Since then, there was something much worse and more difficult, and that was the historic Cuban regime, the Castro regime, as well as Venezuela, which continues to be a place of struggle at this time. Not only is it enough that these regimes exist present day in Latin America, but it is with regret that the government across the aisle continues to support these regimes.
In fact, I can only describe the strong words spoken by the Prime Minister at the funeral of Fidel Castro as shameful and very disrespectful to the people who chose to come to Canada and make it their home. In addition, I would encourage the government to continue to stand up for Venezuela and Venezuelans who are suffering as conditions continue to deteriorate.
I am proud to be part of a Conservative Party that has always stood for democracy, justice, and prosperity, and under Prime Minister Harper had an appreciation for the Americas. I am proud to be part of the legacy of Jason Kenney and former foreign affairs minister John Baird. For all these reasons, supporting this bill will show support for democracy, prosperity, and justice across Latin America. It will show Canadians of Latin American origin how much we support them. That is why I ask all members of the House to support the bill to have a month of recognition for American Latinos.
[Member spoke in Spanish]