Latin America is once again in the cross-hairs of the world’s great (but in some cases, declining) powers as the new Cold War heats up.
Vladimir Putin upped the ante this week in his standoff with the West by offering Russia’s allies in Latin America, Asia and Africa advanced Russian weaponry — all in the name of safeguarding “peace and security” in the emerging multipolar world. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the International Military and Technical Forum 2022 and the International Army Games-2022, the Russian leader heaped praise on non-aligned countries for not kowtowing to the global hegemon and instead choosing to steer a more independent course of development:
“We highly appreciate the fact that our country has many like-minded allies and partners on different continents. These are the states that do not succumb to the so-called hegemon. Their leaders show a real masculine character and do not bend.
Putin did not name any names but when it comes to Latin America it is not hard to decipher which countries he is probably referring to. While there may be a growing roster of nations in the region wishing to steer a more independent course of Washington, three of the region’s countries already enjoy close military ties with Russia: Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
By deepening those ties, Putin puts the US on alert in its own neighborhood. As I previously noted in “Is Russia About to Put the Monroe Doctrine to the Test?“, Daniel Ortega’s government in Nicaragua recently renewed a long-standing military partnership with Russia, despite repeated warnings from Washington not to cooperate with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. Nicaragua now faces the prospect of a fresh round of US sanctions, after the Ortega government shuttered radio stations belonging to the Catholic Church and banned processions.
Further south, Venezuela is currently hosting the Sniper Frontier competition, with representatives from Russia, Bolivia, Abkhazia, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Myanmar competing to win the title of the world’s best sniper. The competition forms part of the International Army Games, an annual Russian military sports event organized by the Ministry of Defense of Russia (MoD). Now in its eighth year, the two-week event brings together participants from close to 30 countries, including China, Iran, Algeria, Syria, Sudan and Vietnam, all vying to prove which is the most skilled in dozens of competitions.
In recent years, the US and a number of EU Member States, including Germany, France and Austria, have taken part as observers in the event, which is sometimes referred to as the “War Olympics”. Suffice to say, that won’t be happening this year.
Zelensky Gives First Speech Ever in Latin America
Two days after Putin’s speech, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was given his first chance to address a Latin American audience. The videoconference was organized by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and (according to its dean) was broadcast to 300 universities around the world. During his address Zelensky urged Latin America to abandon its position of neutrality and join global sanctions against Russia.
“What matters to us is that Latin American countries know the truth and share our truth with others,” Zelensky said. Asked about what he expected from Latin American countries, the Ukrainian leader replied: “I want them to join those policies carried out by the United States, to make the sanctions policy more effective.”
It is a tall order given that most countries in Latin America, including the two largest, Brazil and Mexico, resolutely oppose sanctions, for an array of economic, geostrategic and ethical reasons that I have outlined in previous posts (here and here). They are also terrified, understandably, by the precedent the U.S., EU and friends have set by attempting to excise Russia from the global financial system. If it works, they know they could be next.
Already around one-quarter of the global population is already suffering the direct effects of US-led sanctions, including Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was ripping global supply chains apart, those three countries joined Russia, China, Syria, Iran and North Korea in signing a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director-General of the World Health Organization calling for an end to sanctions. Although UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested an immediate end to the sanctions, nothing happened.
Chile is one of the few countries in the region that has endorsed sanctions, albeit in half-hearted fashion. Yet Chile’s President Gabriel Boric and its Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola Noguera were both conspicuously absent from the event despite having received invites. The snub came almost exactly a month after the South American trade bloc Mercosur refused to host Zelensky at its 60th Summit. The US and EU have both pressured countries in the region to join the sanctions pile-on, to no avail.
Now, as tensions rise between the West and Russia and China and as more independent-minded governments come to power in Latin American countries including Mexico, Brazil, Honduras and Colombia (of all places), both the US and EU are beginning to ratchet their response in the region…
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