Monroe Doctrine Redux: US Military Trying to “Box Out” China and Russia from Strategic Resources in Latin America

“In a lot of our countries in this region, [the PRC] is the number one trade partner, with the United States number two in most cases”: General Laura Richardson, USSOUTHCOM.

As regular readers are by now probably aware, the Commander of US Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), General Laura Richardson, has a rare talent for saying the quiet parts out loud. That talent was on full display in a recent interview with Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council last Thursday (Jan 19). In one 90-second clip (featured below) Richardson laid out in disarmingly frank terms why the US is showing a renewed interest in Latin America: the region’s abundant natural resources.

“Our” Countries in Latin America

Those resources include rare earth elements, lithium, gold, oil, natural gas, light sweet crude (huge deposits of which have been found off the coast of Guyana), copper, abundant food crops, and fresh water. And the US government and military, and the corporations whose interests they serve, have their eyes on all of them. As the Argentinean journalist and news presenter Carlos Montero lamented in a tweet, it would be nice to live in a would where the US wasn’t interested in Latin America for the riches it could plunder but to help it break free from being the world’s most unequal region.

Of even greater concern to the US is that many of Latin America’s resources are now being sold to its number-one adversary, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Its number-two adversary is, of course, Russia, with whom a number of LatAm countries have close military ties. As Richardson told the Atlantic Council’s virtual audience (emphasis my own), “in a lot of our countries in this region, [the PRC] is the number one trade partner, with the United States number two in most cases.” She then clumsily corrected herself: “Not in most cases, I would say in some cases.”

Tellingly, she did not correct the Freudian slip, “our”. As I said, she has a gift of saying the quiet parts out loud.

The reality is that China is already South America’s biggest trading partner. The US still holds sway over Central America and is still the region’s largest trading partner as a whole. But that is primarily due to its gigantic trade flows with Mexico, which account for 71% of all US-LatAm trade. As Reuters reported in June, if you take Mexico out of the equation, China has already overtaken the US as Latin America’s largest trading partner. Excluding Mexico, total trade flows — i.e., imports and exports — between China and Latin America reached $247 billion last year, far in excess of the US’ $173 billion.

The US is now in a desperate race to turn back the clock. To do so, it is rejigging the Monroe Doctrine, a 200-year old US foreign policy position that opposed European colonialism on the American continent. It held that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the United States. Now, it is applying that doctrine to China and Russia.

Gen Richardson detailed how Washington, together with US Southern Command, is actively negotiating the sale of lithium in the lithium triangle to US companies through its web of embassies, with the goal of “box[ing] out” out adversaries (clarifying comments in parenthesis my own):

Just yesterday we had a — I had a — zoom call with the US ambassadors from Argentina and Chile, and then also the strategy officer from (Pennsylvania-based Tesla lithium supplier) Livent and also the VP for global operations from Albermarle for lithium (the US’ largest provider of lithium for electric vehicle batteries) to talk about the lithium triangle in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, and the companies and how they’re doing and what they see as challenges and things like that in the lithium business. And then the aggressiveness and coercion from the PRC.

And so the ability to get those groups together to leverage what’s really happening on the ground and, you know, how we can help and, you know, who else we can bring to the table to help us to figure the problems out and (here comes the crunch) box out our adversaries.

Each time Richardson uses the word “we” in the second paragraph, she is referring, presumably, to USSOUTHCOM, the command unit of the US Department of Defense that she heads, which is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, and the Caribbean. So, essentially the US military is trying to figure out ways of preventing the US’ biggest adversaries, China and Russia, from being able to purchase strategic resources in Latin America and the Caribbean…

Read the full article on Naked Capitalism

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