Analysis prepared by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sánchez
Pluralism Bursts into the Western Hemisphere
* While Russia, Europe and China are wooing Latin America and the Caribbean, the Monroe Doctrine now becomes the "Putin,
Zapatero and Chinese - Corollary"
* Iran's increased presence in the region may lead to bad press, but for now only shows increased investments
* The "Great Game" of political and economic influence is set to be played in the southern hemisphere
No one is arguing that Latin America and the Caribbean have become a priority matter for international diplomacy, save
for the U.S., which has witnessed a massive retreat of Washington's vigilance for what it once insisted were its
longtime national interests and influence in the hemisphere.
Concentrating on its "War on Terror" has resulted in a detour of the U.S. military and diplomatic corps to a series of
sorties, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and now, likely enough, to Iran. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine is no longer relevant as
nations like Russia, the People's Republic of China as well as the European Union (and its individual members) increase
their influence in the Western Hemisphere.
This penetration is due to the fact that numerous hemispheric countries are themselves looking to diversify their pool
of allies and trading partners by contracting ties to other nations besides the U.S., with Venezuela being at the core
of this movement.
From Brussels to Moscow and Beijing, not to mention other emerging middle powers like India, it seems as though everyone
wants a piece of Latin America these days.
With Washington's grip on the region loosening, there is an increase in opportunity for potentially valuable
non-traditional relationships - Iran's aggressive courting of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua is one example–
demonstrating that the Western Hemisphere has become a multipolar continent, with Washington no longer being the
exclusive choice, and with diplomatic initiatives originating from around the globe.
Enter the Dragon
China has diverse interests in the Western Hemisphere, and although most of them are primarily economic, there are
pressing political factors at play as well. Of key importance to Beijing is its quest for new product markets, in
combination with creating multiple portals through which it can import the mineral resources and produce what it needs
to maintain a booming economy. The most recent example is the $10 billion contract signed between Beijing and Caracas to
search for crude oil reserves in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco belt. This arrangement occurred shortly after Venezuela's
President Hugo Chávez expelled a number of Western oil companies from the country, including Exxon and Conoco, for
failing to take a minority stake in their Orinoco oil holdings.
Another reason for China's interest in the Western Hemisphere has to do with the status of neighboring Taiwan. Beijing
and Taipei's hostile attitude toward each other and quest for diplomatic recognition has been transferred to the
Americas, as both governments attempt to gain new allies in order to bolster support for their positions on the issue of
Beijing's claim to the island of Taiwan. Inevitably, Beijing is winning its diplomatic and public relations showdown
with Taipei, due to its geopolitical weight. While Taiwan has gained the formal recognition of a number of countries in
this hemisphere, it subsequently lost some of this support. This is being achieved as a result of an "open checkbook"
policy for economic aid, access to the Chinese market, and the availability of loans for the disadvantaged economies of
the Americas. The critical factor here is that China has been able to decisively beat out its adversary, with Taipei
having diplomatic ties with only a handful of countries in the Western Hemisphere, most of which have only marginal
importance other than their ability to cast a vote in international forums.
An example of this "financially mercenary" is the Caribbean island of Dominica, which cut ties with Taiwan in 2004.
According to a report by the BBC, after the decision of Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to cut off Taipei,
Beijing was prepared to hand over more than $100 million in aid over the next five years to the now blessed Caribbean
The Russian Bear
Russia has just begun to regain a privileged position of influence in the Western Hemisphere, a status once enjoyed
during the days of the Cold War when, as a result of its close ties with Havana, it was able to maintain close relations
with Nicaragua, Grenada, and Allende's Chile. Moscow also had the sympathy of military governments like Peru during the
Juan Velasco Alvarado rule (1968-1975). Today, Russia is attempting to come up with a new strategy to recover a
resource-drilling position of influence in the hemisphere, and has focused on the military export industry as its line
of attack. During the Cold War several Latin American governments purchased Soviet weaponry, and today are familiar with
utilizing this type of equipment and prefer its use (not to mention Russian weapons are currently very inexpensive) over
having to purchase them from other manufacturers (i.e. France, Israel). For example, Peru is in the process of upgrading
its Soviet-era Mi-8 helicopters, having placed its order with Moscow.
Moscow has also capitalized on non-U.S. friendly countries like Venezuela to increase its client base. Last year
Venezuela purchased $3 billion of military equipment from the Vladimir Putin regime. This summer, during a trip to
Moscow, Chávez ordered five submarines, with the option of buying four more in the near future. In addition, Russia's
Izhevsk Manufacturing Plant has reported that it will build two factories in Venezuela to manufacture Kalashnikov
rifle-type AK-103 as well as ammunition for it. The objective is to have both plants completed by 2010.
However, it is doubtful that military sales alone will be enough for Russia to once again cement anything like the
position of influence in the Western hemisphere that it episodically had in the post-World War II period. Trade is still
somewhat lagging between the two sides of the Pacific, and there have been instances of rapprochement between Kremlin
officials and a number of hemispheric leaders. Cuba has yet to receive anything approaching a major volume of Russian
investment and economic aid, as it once did, although there is always the possibility that this situation may change in
the near future. There have been some important visits by high level Kremlin officials, like President Vladimir Putin's
trip to Cuba in 2000, as well as several meetings between Putin and Chávez in Moscow, however, these ties have to be
amplified in order to make Russia into a bigger player in Latin America. Meanwhile, the region increasingly looks to
Moscow for both friendship and, more importantly, trade and investment.
European Unity for All
Understanding Europe's presence in Latin America and the Caribbean may require two separate streams of analysis. On the
one hand, the Europe Union has a common policy towards the Americas, and, at the same time, individual European
countries have their own foreign policies and interests in the region. When it comes to the EU, Brussels has focused on
greater economic and political interaction with the region's major blocs, namely MERCOSUR, the Andean Community of
Nations (CAN), and the Rio Group. In fact, the EU has already been discussing a free-trade agreement with CAN for a
number of months. In recent weeks, Venezuela has been placed in the spotlight as President Chávez is looking to possibly
return to CAN after leaving the bloc in 2006. Chávez is not in favor of an FTA between CAN and the EU, so it is yet to
be seen how these feints will transpire. In the meantime, CAN has scheduled its second round of negotiations with the EU
in Brussels this coming December. Additionally, the EU has pursued free trade talks with countries like Mexico and
Individual European governments are pursuing their own foreign policy initiatives vis-à-vis the Western Hemisphere in
line with their own national interests. France has increased its cooperation in recent years with Brazil. Likewise,
Britain continues to make use of its historical influence on the English-speaking Caribbean, for example, maintaining a
military base in Belize (the British Army Training Support Unit Belize - BATSUB). The goal of the base is to provide
jungle training to British troops, with the additional objective of protecting the sovereignty of the country, which has
had a historical territorial dispute with neighboring Guatemala. In addition, British naval ships regularly patrol the
Caribbean and aid with drug-enforcement operations. In 2005, the frigate HMS Cumberland stopped a vessel off Nicaragua's
Caribbean coast, which was carrying two tons of cocaine.
In addition, Spain and Portugal, in an attempt to project their presence in Latin America, encouraged the creation of
the Ibero-American Secretaria (SEGIB) in 2006. The organization is based in Madrid and scored something of a coup after
the distinguished Uruguayan official Enrique Iglesias was selected as its first secretary-general in 2005. Iglesias
brought a significant amount of prestige to the organization as he is a former president of the Inter-American
Development Bank in Washington, Uruguay's foreign minister from 1985-1988 and also served as the head of the UN Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen if SEGIB can make much progress in
bringing both sides of the Atlantic effectively together.
In early November, the XVII Ibero-American Summit took place in Santiago, Chile. The meeting was not without controversy
as at one point King Juan Carlos of Spain told President Chavez "por qué no te callas?" (why don't you shut up?).
Ironically, SEGIB's secretary Iglesias declared in a press conference that the summit had been a success. The next
meeting will take place in October 2008 in San Salvador, El Salvador.
Holland's presence in the region is mainly a result of its connection to its former colonies of Suriname and the islands
of Aruba (Curacao and Saba off the coast of South America in the Caribbean), as well as St. Maarten, which it shares
with France. Finally there are some European nations that particularly are at odds with one or more Latin American
countries, especially with Fidel Castro's Cuba. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia are famous for their rejection
of any effort to be made to moderate the current hostility that these former Soviet satellites currently have towards
Cuba, which has rendered them a gaggle of Castro bashers serving on European bodies.
The Growing Persian Shadow
Iran is another country that has a mixed diplomatic-trade and security relationship with a number of regional countries,
with Venezuela immediately coming to mind. Recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused an uproar in New York
when he visited the UN and gave a fiery speech after being booed during a presentation he made at Columbia University.
After his stopover in Caracas, Ahmadinejad traveled to Bolivia, prompting rumors of a possible Caracas-Tehran-Sucre/La
Paz alliance. In order to explain his meeting with the Iranian leader, Bolivian President Evo Morales declared "we are
from the culture of dialogue and life, without marginalization and discrimination. We are about unity [and] solidarity."
Visits by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials to the Western Hemisphere are examples of Tehran's growing presence in
the continent. In early November, Iranian Minister of Commerce Masood Mirkazemi traveled to Havana and signed an
agreement to form a joint shipping company between the two governments.
During his trip to Bolivia, the first made by an Iranian president, Ahmadinejad pledged to invest $1 billion over the
next five years to improve the Bolivian economy. According to September 27 Associated Press file, "Bolivia-Iran trade
can hardly go anywhere but up. Bolivia exported nothing to Iran between 2000 and 2006, and Iranian exports to Bolivia
totaled just $10 million last year, according to government statistics, down from $24 million a year earlier." Closer
relations between La Paz and Tehran have more than raised eyebrows among Bolivia's opposition parties. There are rumors
that there may be a deal between both countries for the mining of Bolivia's uranium, which opposition senators would try
to block, if true. "No one has assured us that Bolivian uranium will be used for benign purposes, so we cannot take
risks," said Senator Arturo Murillo of Unidad Nacional.
In Ahmadinejad's September trip to Caracas, he met with Chávez and the two leaders signed three cooperation accords
regarding the petrochemical, agricultural and automobile sectors. In addition, as reported by Latin America News Digest,
Venezuela's state-run oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) and Iranian state-run energy firm Petropars have
agreed to set up a 50/50 joint venture named Venirogc. The article explains that the goal is to challenge the supremacy
of oil and gas giants Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni by creating international oil and gas enterprises along the
entire value chain, from production to retail merchandizing through gasoline stations.
Brazil's increasing links to South Africa and India have aided both emerging middle-rank powers to gain a foothold in
the Western Hemisphere. India also has a growing research-based presence in Guyana, which it gained by deploying
historical ethnic ties, and has also used a diplomatic offensive to permit it to step up investments in mineral-rich
Pluralism in the Americas
Washington's semi-divorce from Latin America and the Caribbean has been the catalyst that has allowed other nations and
international organizations to move rapidly into the regions. What can be seen now is the possibility of the creation of
a new system in the Western Hemisphere, with the U.S. becoming no longer the omnipotent and omnipresent player.
Washington may have to adjust to being one of many actors in the hemisphere along with Beijing, Moscow, Brussels and,
oddly enough, Tehran.
In effect, a dramatically pluralistic hemisphere is in the making, which cannot help but profoundly affect the
inter-American system, with the Organization of American States--which has always been regarded as Washington's
protégé--losing ground to one or more of a variety of other possible regional blocks, like CARICOM, the Rio Group, the
Andean Community of Nations, as well as Chávez' Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).
While important from a geo-strategic point of view, the Caribbean does not usually attract the international media
coverage it deserves. In spite of this fact, security forces from major powers like the U.S. and Britain continue to
maintain security a presence in the area, especially as the Caribbean has become a major point for the shipment of
illegal drugs coming from South America on their way to Europe.
London's BATSUB provides specialist training for over 4,000 British troops per year and offers back-up support to the
Belize Defense Force (BDF). The British base also regularly receives visits by British vessels, like the Cumberland,
that take part in anti-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea, often in conjunction with the U.S.
Washington aggressively has pressed the relatively unknown but very important "Shiprider Agreement" with a number of
Caribbean countries. The objective of this pact is to combat illegal drug trafficking, arms smuggling and transnational
crime by increasing cooperation between U.S. security forces (particularly the Coast Guard) and Caribbean governments.
From the onset, the "Shiprider Agreement" has been surrounded by controversy; for example, there have been
confrontations between the U.S., Jamaica.
According to a February 2004 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, "in 1996, then U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration
was on the verge of imposing financial sanctions against Jamaica because it was dissatisfied with Jamaica's co-operation
on narcotics. Sanctions were eventually averted after the crisis prompted a Caribbean summit in Barbados with Clinton in
1997." Jamaica and Washington signed a new "Shiprider" accord in 2004.
On January 26, 2006 an article was published in Caribbean Net News, which included comments by the U.S. ambassador to
Suriname, Marsha Barnes. In the article the American diplomat said that so far, there are no tangible results from the
proposed cooperation since Suriname doesn't have a Coast Guard. The diplomat noted that agreements with other Caribbean
nations were exercised differently. Some Caribbean nations' vessels patrolling off-shore Puerto Rico have U.S. law
enforcement officers on board, while in other instances Caribbean law enforcement personnel are on board U.S. Coast
Additionally, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, sponsors a series of
military exercises held with Caribbean nations, known as TRADEWINDS. The May 2007 TRADEWINDS exercises were held in
Belize with the participation of the British Royal Marines. It is noteworthy to mention that the Caribbean has strived
to achieve independence when it comes to security issues. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the need for a collective
response to security threats led to the creation of the Regional Security System. This concept first appeared in
concrete terms through a Memorandum of Understanding which was signed in October 1982 between Antigua and Barbuda,
Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Barbados, in order to provide for "mutual assistance on
request." The RSS' first deployment was a part of the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. Grenada itself joined the RSS in
Who Supports Who?
In spite of the growing presence of extra-hemispheric nations in the Western Hemisphere, it might be an exaggeration to
assume that exclusive alliances have been cemented between any Latin American or Caribbean nations with particular
European or Asian powers. Brazil has developed close relations with India and South Africa (through the tri-national
organization known as IBSA), which is perhaps the closest there is to an inter-hemispheric alliance at the moment. In
addition, Britain has a strong relation with its former colonies, but at the same time, the Caribbean states have had
success in forming their own identity through regional organizations like CARICOM.
Mexico's growing closeness with the EU, China and India on trade issues will continue to be dwarfed by its relationship
with the U.S., its major trading partner by far. The same can be said about Central America and the Dominican Republic,
after the ratification by all members of CAFTA-DR. President Chávez has turned to Russia as a weapons supplier, but he
had no problems granting China, Russia's competitor in the quest for overseas resources, a multi-billion dollar deal for
An issue that needs to be addressed is that of shifts and movements in inter-state relations on the continent and the
search for external alliances. Brazil, with is global ambitions, has teamed up with other regional powers in other parts
of the world that share similar interests. Venezuela turned to Russia for military equipment because when requested, the
U.S. would not sell the Chávez administration spare parts to repair the country's squadron of aging F-16 fighter planes.
Adjoining countries like Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay, have yet to feel any need to seek stable extra-hemispheric
Another condition that deserves to be considered is the fear that allowing too many foreign companies or foreign
influence in a country will be detrimental to local economies or create neo-colonial scenarios. For example, some
Caribbean analysts still bitterly recall CARICOM's distrust which was directed against France's then-Prime Minister
Dominique de Villepin, with some officials of the Caribbean organization alleging that he was one of the main plotters
of the Haitian 2004 coup that overthrew President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
It is unrealistic to believe that a Russian or Asian military base may be located in the Western Hemisphere anytime
soon. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that non-American military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean do
exist. One example is the aforementioned British military training facility in Belize. France has also deployed members
of its Foreign Legion to French Guyana, an overseas department, for training exercises and to protect the European Space
Agency spacecrafts which are launched from there. Furthermore, the status of U.S. facilities in the region is no longer
secure or, for that matter, sacred. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa adamantly insists that once the lease to the U.S.
facility in Manta expires in 2009, Quito will refuse to renew it. Meanwhile Mexican authorities have stressed that no
U.S. military forces will be allowed in the country as part of the newly signed Merida initiative.
El Gran Juego
Like the struggle for influence in Central Asia in the 19th century between the Russian and British empires, which was
referred to at the time as the Great Game, Latin America and the Caribbean have entered into their own version of this
quest, with non-hemispheric players like Russia, China and the European Union all attempting to win influence in the
region. This translates into investment, access to resources and local markets; however it is not a winner-takes-all
type of game. One thing is clear: for the rest of the world, efforts at associating with Latin America and the Caribbean
signifies the region's emergence as an important political and economic force with potential for further growth, which
is even far beyond what Washington is now able to conceptualize.