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Grigory Pasko: Interview with a Russian Latin Americanist, Part 2

Boris Martynov: «Russia’s geopolitical interest in Latin America needs to be reinforced with economics»
Part 2

Grigory Pasko, journalist

See part 1 of this interview here.

For now at least, the only obvious successes are in the realm of cooperation of another kind – in the main on the field of shipments of Russian weapons.

Oil, gas, and arms – realistically, this is the structure of our export. Venezuela …Arms… Yes, must go carefully here, the question is very delicate. Latin America – a peaceful continent, there haven’t been any wide-scale wars there, like in Europe, there have been local conflicts. They’ve always spent little there on weapons. But the USA are constantly whipping up the arms race [Here I honestly did not understand: What does this have to do with the USA, if it is Russia that is shipping the arms to Latin America?–G.P.] And we don’t have objective conditions for rapprochement with the USA. For the USA, domestic policy has always been more important that foreign policy.

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Why don’t we stick with Venezuela and Latin America? What, in yourview, is the attitude of the inhabitants of the countries of the regiontowards the desire of certain leaders for practically lifetime rule?

We in our country are making a mistake when we paint nationalism ina negative color. Nationalism – something halfway between patriotismand chauvinism. It is important to stay in the middle. That is hard.And in questions of democracy we have a misunderstanding. Pretty wordsfor us mean more than substance. The crisis has shown that for us thegoal of the economy was the economy, and not people’s security. Thereis no democracy for its own sake. Now as concerns the countries ofLatin America. The lifetime-ness of leaders – if they want this andhave expressed their will, which nobody has questioned, then this isgood. You have to treat it as a given. The USA look calmly upon theirremovability of leaders in Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. I aminterested in Russian history, and I place security above democracy. Itis known what democracy turned into for us, in a country not ready fordemocracy. Of course, democratic principles must be made use of, but asapplies to the concretics of local conditions. One needs to correlatein consideration of the history and the psychology of the nation. Oneneeds to get accustomed to become aware. I agree that very much dependson the people: the way the people are – that’s the way the leaders are.Our people, after all, did not come out against the amendments to theConstitution.

How do you assess the state of the opposition in Venezuela?

It’s splintered over there. The main trouble with the oppositions ofunderdeveloped democracies – they can’t agree among themselves. Themilitary over there are all for Chavez. Nationalism – a mighty weaponand a multifaceted one. The turn to the left – this is the revival of asuppressed national sentiment. There are many musicians, writers,artists – Nobel laureates – there [In fact, there isn’t a singleVenezuelan Nobel Prize winner in Literature, or in any field for thatmatter. The closest is Baruj Benaceraff, who shared the 1980 prize forPhysiology or Medicine: he was born in Caracas and spent a part of hischildhood there, but has lived in the US his entire adult life–Trans.].The Cubans have made a fabulous industrial center out of Miami. Cubansknow how to work. The Inter-American development bank is planning agrowth of indicators in Latin America. The opposition there can notoffer a plan of national development.

Is there, in your view, something that makes us similar toVenezuelans, besides, needless to say, the desire of our leaders forlifetime rule?

Both we and they are – borderline civilizations. We’re close inthis. Both we and they need an idea. Chavez has proposed a project ofan independent and proud country. Right now they’re living more poorly,but are feeling themselves a free people. And it was like that on Cubatoo. Cuba was the most debased country. It’s not about wealth andpoverty, but about a sense o national self-awareness. Americans gavecredits in a demeaning form. The Cubans had no place else to go. Butthey did not cave in to America and joined together with the USSR. Inthese countries, new forces came out, self-awareness, a healthynationalism, manifested itself. This is already not the backyards ofthe USA, not any more.

How realistic, in your opinion, is the possibility that the moderatereformers in this region (the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay)may turn more leftist?

In Brazil – no. The pendulum has swung to the left – that isreaction. Nationalism – this is a reaction to strangled patriotism. Alittle bit more – and it’s chauvinism. It seems to me that with time,nationalism will pass, when the situation calms down. There will beerrors, but everything will come to a common denominator. Now a leftistpresident, then – a rightist, but nothing will change, policy willfluctuate around the middle. The country has gotten on its track ofdevelopment. This is a prominent power of the future and contemporaryworld. It will go along this path without recoiling. Brazil sets theexample. And plays a substantial role in the region. And this role willrise. Venezuela came really close to interfering in theEcuadoro-Colombian conflict. It seems to me that ties with Venezuela,Bolivia – this is good, but our main ally must be Brazil. President ofBrazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has proclaimed the idea of thecooperation of country-giants. BRIC is developing. Moreover, we’ve gotworse indicators. Russia at the forefront and the weakest link in BRIC.We need to conduct a subtle policy of cooperation. With the West is noon our way, we can’t count there on automatism.

Alternative poles inthe world – we need to count on them. We need to develop bilateralrelations. With that same Venezuela. The main task – not to makemistakes, because victories can turn out pyrrhic. And there can come aperson from another flank, as was in Chile. Then it will be bad foreveryone. Chavez is far from ideal, but we have to deal with him.

Photo: Boris Martynov (photo by Grigory Pasko)

• G.Pasko’s afterword to the interview:

Of course I am far from being in agreement on everything with theopinion of Boris Martynov. Especially as concerns his ideas about therole of nationalism. Also, his fears relative to the aggressiveness ofthe USA seem to me to be too overstated, both in relation to LatinAmerica and in relation to Russia. What amazed me too was his positionin relation to the development of Venezuela’s nuclear program. This, ofcourse, is strange that he hadn’t heard anything about this, becausepresident of Venezuela Hugo Chavez himself had loudly proclaimed about thenuclear program during the time of his visit to Russia in June of theyear 2007. And another thing: it seemed to me that doctor of politicalsciences Martunov himself still doesn’t know and doesn’t understandsome things in the relations of Russia with the countries of LatinAmerica. Just like the Russian MFA no doubt doesn’t know and doesn’tunderstand this. On the one hand, this is comprehensible: for longyears, Russia did not pay attention to that region. On the other – anobviously prejudicial attitude and even in some ways hatred towards theUSA forces Russian specialists to see certain positions in a contortedlight.

Why Boris Fedorovich did not start to recount in detail about therelations of Chavez with the opposition, I think, is comprehensible:the analogies with Putin and his attitude towards the opposition inRussia itself would have turned out to be all too clear.