Latin America on the international stage

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Latin America has yet to find its place, despite recent initiatives to strengthen its unity and play a role in peace efforts..

Few recent meetings have raised as many international expectations as NATO's in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, on July 11th. New steps to support Ukraine in its war against Russia were discussed there. The result was summarized in an extensive document of 30 pages and 90 paragraphs, in which there is not a single reference to Latin America.

This may seem normal. The NATO treaty defines the North Atlantic as its area of ​​operations, and its 12 founding countries were joined by another 19, of which 15 are from Eastern Europe, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No Latin American country belongs to the region, nor is it a member of the institution and, with the exception of Costa Rica, none has adhered to the sanctions imposed on Russia by NATO countries and their allies.

But geography probably does not exhaust the explanation. In recent decades, NATO has extended its membership across Europe, right up to Russia's borders, and the Vilnius communiqué indicates, in the first paragraph, its aspiration to ensure the collective defense of its members against all threats, in a 360-degree view. degrees. In other words, the whole world.

It is not a matter of discussing here assertions of the document such as the defensive nature of the organization, nor the recognition of its dependence on the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, nor its vision on the origin of the war in Ukraine, nor the agreements adopted to support the country in its war against Russia. This is another question: trying to understand the repeated absence of Latin America in recent documents from international powers and organizations, in which the region is either not mentioned, or is mentioned only in a secondary way. As for NATO, it is completely ignored, as we have already indicated.

The document makes reference to several sensitive cases for the stability of Europe, such as the Western Balkans; mentions the importance of peace between Bosnia and Herzegovina, relations with Serbia, Kosovo, Georgia (which intends to join the alliance) and Moldova, and recognizes that the role of its non-European allies is essential for the defense of Europe.

They highlight the People's Republic of China as a threat to the interests, security and values ​​of the Alliance and that developments in the Indo-Pacific region “could directly affect Euro-Atlantic security”. They welcome the contribution of their allies in the region – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – and underscore the importance of NATO's relations with the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the African Union. They reiterate their determination to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and condemn North Korea's ballistic missile program.

They make reference to NATO's southern neighbours, particularly the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel. They reaffirm their intention to stabilize the situation in Iraq, the geopolitical importance of the Black Sea, the Middle East and Africa. But Latin America does not even appear in paragraph 68, which states that energy security plays an important role in global security, on the same days that the discovery of the largest lithium reserve in the world in Bolivia was confirmed.

Nowhere for Latin America

Perhaps we should look for a place for Latin America elsewhere. In October of last year, the White House published a document on its “National Security Strategy”. If we should not expect special references to Latin America in a NATO document, it would seem logical to find them in the strategic definitions of the United States, whose long and close relationship with the hemisphere is part of history.

In the document's introduction, Joe Biden pledges to continue defending democracy around the world and celebrates the renewal of a formidable network of alliances. First, with the European Union; then with Quad in the Indo-Pacific region, with which it also established a framework for economic cooperation. Only in fourth place is his initiative for the region mentioned, the “Partnership of Americas to Economic Prosperity”, released in June 2022.

The 48-page document analyzes US strategic interests by region. With regard to Latin America, two pages address the promotion of democracy and a supposed “shared prosperity”. Among the Partnership's goals is to “restore faith in democracy” in the region, promising to create good jobs and address economic inequality. These are not minor objectives, with countries such as the United States or Brazil still moved by attempts to subvert the political order and the promotion of violent protests to reject elections by supporters of former presidents Trump and Bolsonaro, to to cite just two extreme cases of renewed political tensions underpinned by growing economic disparity.

On January 27, 2023, the White House intended to relaunch, in a ministerial event with the participation of twelve countries in the region, the Partnership proposal that, despite everything, languishes without any prospect of development. However, those who, from the fact that Latin America is rarely mentioned in these agreements, draw the conclusion that its role is secondary in the international order should read the two pages in which the National Security Strategy refers to the region.

The document states that “no region has a more direct impact on the country than the Western Hemisphere”. With an annual trade of 1,9 trillion dollars, “with shared values ​​and democratic traditions”, the region has contributed decisively to the prosperity and resilience of the United States, whose security and prosperity are linked to those of its neighbors, recognizes the document.

Among its objectives are also “to protect us from external interference, including from the People's Republic of China, Russia or Iran”, and, “in alliance with civil society and other governments, to support the democratic self-determination of the peoples of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua". This recognizes the interference in the political process of our countries, the permanent destabilization sustained, in the recent past, by civil-military coups and, currently, by unilateral economic sanctions whose devastating effects, in the case of Cuba, already have more than 60 years. Sanctions condemned every year practically unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations, without the White House accepting any of these resolutions.

the fifth column

Under drastic sanctions, Cuba, like Venezuela and Nicaragua, face enormous difficulties not only to keep their economies functioning, but also to develop their political life with some normality, since the opposition is counting on the economic deterioration caused by the sanctions of Washington and with the political support of a vast network of NGOs that finance it with resources, publicity and professional training.

Very recently, in On July 20, the undersecretary of state for political affairs in the United States, Victoria Nuland, appealed to Brazil, in an interview with the newspaper The Globe, who would use his “leadership” and diplomatic skills to influence the elections in Venezuela, in order to achieve a “free and fair” game in which “all candidates can compete”. President Nicolás Maduro had already referred to these US initiatives, demanding elections free of the economic sanctions imposed on the country by Washington, whose intervention in favor of the opposition makes it impossible to hold “free and fair” elections.

What we would like to suggest in this article is that precisely this “fifth column”, financed and organized by Washington, is what makes it unnecessary, and even inconvenient, to make detailed reference to policies for Latin America, in a scenario where external intervention it actually requires discretion.

From Vilnius to CELAC

But there have been changes in Latin America's role on the international stage. The presence of Lula, since he took over the presidency of Brazil again last January, is the most important factor in these changes, facilitating the resurgence of Unasur, adding new proposals to deal with the conflict between Russia, Ukraine and NATO, redefining the terms of relations with the European Union, or resuming the activity of the BRICS, which will meet in August in South Africa.

On May 30, Lula met in Brasilia with Latin American heads of state (the only absence was that of Peru), including Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, whose isolation is part of the policy promoted by Washington, with the support of governments conservatives and regional political allies: the “fifth column”. A “fifth column” that separates its project from any national development project and is reminiscent of the “fifth frontier”, the one that represented for Panama – in the words of General Omar Torrijos – the Canal Zone, then in the hands of the United States .

The factors that unite the region “are above ideologies”, stated Lula, referring to a possible reactivation of Unasur. "No country can face today's threats in isolation." An idea that she reiterated at the meeting with the Business Forum of the European Union, on July 19: “Brazil will only grow sustainably with the integration of our regional environment”.

Faced with this reality and the changes that the war in Europe meant for the international scene, the correspondent in Brussels for the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, Beatriz Navarro, pointed out that “after years of neglect and lack of interest, which other global players – namely China – took full advantage of to expand their influence in the region, the European Union will now turn its gaze to Latin America and the Caribbean with the holding of the first summit of heads of state and government of both blocs since the distant 2015”.

On the occasion, the Brazilian president reiterated once again the need for an alliance that puts an end to an international division of labor that has only meant poverty for most of the region, with our role as suppliers of raw materials and labor cheap migrant. He recalled that, in 2009, developed countries agreed to allocate 100 billion dollars a year to developing countries, a commitment "that was never fulfilled". The phrase reminds us that that $100 billion was actually spent, in a few months, on supplying Ukraine with arms, an indication of the West's priorities.

For the director of La Vanguardia in Madrid, Enric Juliana, the position of the Latin American countries on the war in Ukraine, expressed at the CELAC summit with the European Union, is explained by the fact that “they do not want to confront Russia and China diplomatically, for economic reasons, but also politics”. Juliana, like the European leaders, finds it difficult to understand that, for Lula, it is urgent to reform global governance, as he explained in Europe, and that “dividing the world into antagonistic blocs makes no sense”.

With the world in transition, it is perhaps worth listening once again to the words of Singaporean academic and diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, a figure who needs to be heard in Latin America for a more balanced view of these changes. In his most recent book, The Asian 21st century (with free access), reiterates his view that the century of American dominance is over and that Washington's attempts to contain China will only end up isolating the United States from the rest of the world. Publishers of his book were expecting about 20.000 hits on the text, Mahbubani said. However, they have already surpassed three million (the book can be consulted here).

The “fifth column” does not help us think about this world in which Latin America has not yet found its place, despite recent initiatives to reinforce its unity and play a role in peace efforts that renew global governance and put an end to a worldview based on antagonistic blocs.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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