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Co-official languages in the Iberian Peninsula. Graphic: Lanoyta/Wikipedia

In Spain, the use of co-official languages is approved by the Congress. What about Latin America?

29 September, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

September 19, 2023, was a significant day in the life of a plurinational country like the Kingdom of Spain.

After many years of debate, the rules of procedure of the Lower House were finally reformed to allow the use of Catalan, Basque, and Galician in plenary sessions, committees, and all initiatives, which must require translations. The reform was approved with the votes of the PSOE, Sumar, ERC, Junts, Bildu, PNV, BNG, and CC.

The Congress of Deputies opened its first plenary session of this legislature in Galician, with most of the deputies wearing hearing aids. However, the deputies withdrew from the session in protest of the adopted measure.

The first speeches affirmed that the parliamentary seat being expressed in all languages is a symbol of unity and that including co-official languages in parliamentary life “is not only of interest to nationalist or pro-independence parties,” but to the whole society.

One of the main criticisms of the reform is the cost of the translation system. However, the numbers indicate that the total cost of translators, technical systems, and headsets for the 350 deputies does not exceed 2.5% of the total congressional budget. It has also been recalled that this is several times less than the cost of maintaining the royal household.

On the same day, the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, defended in Brussels the need to give official status in the European Union (EU) to Catalan, Basque, and Galician. He argued that these are not minority languages and that Spain has been defending this demand since 2005, when administrative arrangements were agreed so that the councilors of Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia can express themselves in their languages when attending a meeting of the EU Council.

The news, clearly positive in terms of the construction of intercultural societies, forces us to reflect on what is happening in Latin America.

With more than 800 Indigenous Peoples and around 550 indigenous languages still spoken, some of them by millions of people, no country in Latin America has regulated the use of its indigenous languages in the sessions of national congresses.

Despite the fact that most of the countries of the region have incorporated laws and even constitutional norms that recognize indigenous languages, the reality is that they are not formally used in state institutions, such as in the Legislative Branch.

The case of the Spanish Congress should be followed with interest and as a concrete example that a profound change is not only possible but necessary in the line of building societies where diversity is consolidated as a value and not as a problem to be eliminated or at least hidden.

There have been some important changes at the level of the Judiciary, with the use of linguistic and cultural interpreters, among other aspects, but the use of the original languages is not usual there either, even in those countries or national regions with a majority of indigenous people.