Russia’s Latin America Opportunity

Washington appears to finally be paying the cost of ignoring Latin America for so many years as Russia swoops into the vacuum. This comes from Dan Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue:

Moscow’s outreach to the region is by no means confined to Hugo Chavez and his closest allies. In June 2004, Putin made the first-ever visit to Mexico by Russian premier for talks focusing on military sales, and later that year he attended the APEC summit in Chile and then visited Brazil to initiate cooperation in satellite technology and oil exploration. In 2007, the Russian leader visited Guatemala and then promised to cooperate with the country on electricity production, prompting then-President Oscar Berger to describe Putin as “one of the brightest leaders in today’s world.” Russian arms sales to the region amounted to only $300 million from 1998 to 2001, but they have since escalated dramatically. In 2006, Russia’s military sales to Venezuela alone totaled $3 billion (including an eyebrow-raising shipment of 100,000 Kalishnikov assault rifles), and hundreds of millions more were sold to other major Latin American countries. If the pace of military trade continues, Russia’s arms sales to Latin America will soon surpass the records set by the Soviet Union. The strategic interests that are motivating Russia’s drive into Latin America are clear. Russia seeks to reassert itself as a world power, which includes a renewed presence in Latin America, while much of the region wants to diversify its economic partners to reduce its dependence on the United States. None of this favors US influence in the hemisphere, which appears to be in free fall during the Bush Administration’s final months in office.