I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that Washington holds Latin America in the same regard as Moscow does the former states of the Soviet Union. Certainly, throughout history there has been no shortage of unfortunate if not brutal examples of the United States treating the region as its backyard. In the post-Cold War years, we had the Clinton administrations playing around in Haiti and pushing, with a bit too much enthusiasm, orthodox economic policies. In the Bush years, Latin America discovered that being completely ignored by Washington wasn’t always much better than engagement.
Though it may yet be proven strictly rhetorical, President Barack Obama’s approach feels like a sea change in the American attitude toward Latin America. The willingness to atone for past policies, or at least pretend to, has provided Obama with a pretty solid position – so argues Gideon Rachman in the FT. Perhaps most illustrative were his comments at the Trinidad Summit of the Americas: “I think it’s important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States’ policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can’t blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere. That’s part of the bargain.“
From here we go to Duma member Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who admittedly hasalso gotten into TV fistfights and suggested that Russia trade gas for pistachios with Turkey, made a rather important speechsuggesting that Russia carry out large-scale war games with Venezuelaand Cuba in the Caribbean as a direct response to the NATO activitiesin Georgia. This is not important in any sense of Zhirinovsky’snon-existant influence, but rather in terms of its illustration of howMoscow views the world – divided not into a multilateral system ofsovereign states, but rather spheres of influence. Russian politicians are making an explicit link between the examples of Georgia and Venezuela, and that is something worth paying attention to.
Many readers will recall that Washington did not react the way the Russians expected them toduring the last naval exercises with Venezuela. Why does Russia wantWashington to treat Venezuela as a backyard, and does this positionindicate that if NATO completely withdrew from Georgia, Russia wouldcoldly dump Venezuela? I wonder how well that message sits with thechavistas.