Russia – Belarus – Venezuela a Steady Trio in Latin America
Paradoxically for the present-day Russia, a country pursuing neoliberal policies domestically and internationally, Moscow can always count on Venezuela with its peaceful permanent revolution as the top-reliable partner in Latin America. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez may condemn capitalism as a historically doomed formation and dream of building a society based on social justice, but the picture stemming from the reports which circulate within Russia's foreign ministry is that he contributes more than anybody else to the strengthening of Russian positions across the continent. One might expect the role to be taken by a figure from the rightist camp, considering that Russia is on completely friendly terms with Latin American bastions of neoliberalism like Mexico, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Chile. In fact, Russia's drastic market-oriented reforms - the sweeping privatization, the inflation of the financial sector that sent institutions such as non-government retirement funds mushrooming, the welfare system demolition, etc. - were, with a surprising lack of independent thinking, patterned after Chile's. Still, neither of Latin American neoliberal regimes came close to that of Venezuela in cultivating the partnership with Moscow.
The explanation behind the tendency of the Latin American liberals to keep distance vis-a-vis Moscow is that Washington keeps the whole cohort permanently short-leashed, and, for example, under B. Obama the US Administration does not even bother to disguise its efforts to tame Russia's ambitions on the continent. For the US, Russia – communist or liberal – is equally unwelcome as a country believed to be unpredictable and as a potential competitor, a perception which prompts the US strategy of shutting it out of Latin America regardless of details.
The Russian theme never drops out of sight of the US embassies in Latin America. Russians across the continent – embassy staff, businessmen, or permanent residents – are automatically suspect, and the recurrent smear campaigns waged against Russia by the rightist Latin American media can easily be traced back to US diplomatic missions and psi-ops labs. Russia, as a result, is being portrayed as an authoritarian country run by rigid bureaucracy and criminal clans, Russian products are discounted as a priori inferior to Western analogs, and whatever business projects offered by Moscow come under fire as allegedly corrupt. If a Russian is arrested in Latin America, the case immediately gets blown out of proportions, with the plots often readable as provocations arranged by the US intelligence community and the evidence – forged by its agents. The myth of the Russian mafia is pervasive in Latin American media and largely overshadows the positive developments in Russia's cooperation with the partners across the continent in the spheres of trade, energy, the arms business, finances, and culture.
Latin America's neoliberal leaders are keenly aware that Washington frowns on serious initiatives involving Russia, and that defying control is occasionally punishable by sanctions. Under the circumstances, Russia's potential partners exercise maximum restraint, especially when the projects on the table concern energy or the military-technical cooperation. Deals with Russian companies in Latin America go through only if endorsed by Washington and pose no threat to the US interests. Evidently, the reason why recently Russia has managed to sell copters in Latin America for counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics operations was that the US military-industrial complex was overloaded due to the Empire's being locked in military conflicts worldwide and was unable to fill in the niche.
It must be noted that Belarus no less than Russia is confronted with the US opposition in Latin America. A. Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, is hammered in the West as “Europe's last dictator”, but the reality is that the US Administration hates the idea that the socialism-minded leader who openly criticizes US imperialist policies might find allies in Latin America. Lukashenko responded to the West's attempts to isolate Belarus by diversifying its foreign policies. A 2006 visit to Mensk by H. Chavez marked the start of Belarus' lasting rapprochement with Venezuela and, with the assistance from the latter, with other ALBA countries. Belarus is fairly successful in marketing its energy industry, petrochemistry, food processing, and agriculture products in Venezuela and clearly hopes that the country would in the long run open to Mensk wider access to the continent. At present, Belarus and Venezuela are jointly implementing a total of 85 projects in agriculture, the energy sector, and residential construction, the biggest ones being the creation of the assembly plants to output – for Venezuela's own needs and for the export to other Latin American countries – around 5,000 MAZ trucks and 10,000 MTZ tractors annually. Several impressive infrastructural deals were penned during Lukashenko's last tour of Venezuela. Belorussian companies are to construct a 600 mW co-generation plant in the Santa Ines industrial park in Cahvez's home Barinas state, plus a memorandum exists on the building of a 200-km gas pipeline to link Barquisimeto and the city of Barinas. Venezuela and Belarus are also planning a commercially viable project aimed at producing NPK fertilizer which will be exported across the continent.
The Venezuelan leadership which has to endure constantly heightened US political pressure must be credited with an intelligent choice of international partners, with the East Slavic duo of Russia and Belarus as the key allies. The military-technical cooperation with Russia helps Venezuela maintain appropriate defense capabilities, and it is fair to say that the country's armaments have reached an unprecedented level thanks to the engagement with Russia.
It is worth noting in the context, that Venezuela's armament record includes a deal to buy the F-16 fighters from the US. The transaction got a green light from R. Reagan's Administration in the Cold War era, the rather ridiculous motivation being to enable the country to defend its oil fields from a Cuban snap offensive. The US reneged on its obligations to service Venezuela's park of F-16 fighters - and on an array of similar arms-related contracts - after Chavez rise to power in the country, leaving Caracas no option but to altogether cut off contacts with the Pentagon. The conduct being fairly typical for the US, Latin American governments have to carefully weigh the risks of the military-technical cooperation with Washington. At the moment, Brazil is in a dilemma – it can either sign a $5b contract with the US to buy Super Hornet fighters or accept the competing Dassault Rafale offer from France – and will certainly take Venezuela's negative experience into account.
A presidential campaign is taking off in Venezuela ahead of the October 7 elections. Visiting Caracas, Lukashenko expressed confidence that his friend and ally Chavez would prevail and said new bilateral projects would be coming online within years, the opposition mounted by the foes of the two countries notwithstanding. President Putin talked to Chavez over the phone this June – as a part of the conversation, the Russian leader praised Venezuela's preparations for the presidential race, wished Chavez complete recovery, and said the Venezuelan president looked visibly healthier during his last appearances in public. A Kremlin press release said Putin and Chavez intend to meet in the nearest future. Hypothetically, keeping oil prices stable is going to be an important part of the agenda.
For Latin America, the atmosphere of mutual respect and the openness to cooperation among the trio of Russia, Belarus, and Venezuela combine into a partnership model which has obvious advantages over the aggressive and divisive policies pursued by the US on the continent.
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