Pinera greets Rajoy: 'Welcome to a better world'

Chile CELAC EU Summit

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, center, walks up the stairs with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera at La Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Rajoy is on an official visit ahead of the CELAC-EU economic summit Jan 26-27. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Chile CELAC EU Summit

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto laughs as he meets with members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile, Friday, Jan. 25, 2012. Leaders from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean are gathering in Santiago for the CELAC-EU economic summit Jan 26-27. (AP Photo/Victor Ruiz Caballero)

Chile CELAC EU Summit

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, center, laughs as she walks with foreign ministers from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Leaders from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean are gathering in Santiago for the CELAC-EU economic summit Jan 26-27. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

"Welcome to a better world," President Sebastian Pinera told Mariano Rajoy of Spain as a 60-nation summit got under way on Friday, teasing his counterpart with barbs reflecting the changing fortunes of a Europe mired in crisis as Latin America booms.
The economies of Latin America have resisted the global downturn with solid domestic demand, growing by 3.1 percent last year compared to a 0.5 percent contraction in Europe, and are forecast to grow even faster this year as the Old World remains stuck in recession. Spain is particularly troubled, with a record 26 percent unemployment, putting nearly 6 million people out of work.
"You're in better shape than I imagined, in good health and in shape," Pinera told Rajoy, grinning widely.
"We do have a sense of humor, which is what you need to stay in this business," Spain's president responded.
Only a few years ago, European companies were using ample cash to buy up assets in a Latin America mired in debt and inflation. Now that the tables have turned, they're using their cultural and heritage ties to plead for Latin executives to invest on the other side of the Atlantic.
Spain needs help desperately. The country is in its second recession in three years following the collapse of its once-booming real estate sector. Rajoy's year-old conservative government has made financial reforms and applied severe austerity measures, cutting wages and raising taxes in hopes of a turnaround.
"We're going to maintain our current economic policy in Spain," Rajoy said during his joint appearance with Pinera at La Moneda, Chile's presidential palace.