âInsanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.â â Albert Einstein
Twenty years ago this month, a hardliner coup failed in Moscow. Four months later the USSR collapsed.
Next month is the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., which set America off on a global campaign of revenge, centered on Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter referred to for more than a century as âthe graveyard of empires.â
There is more synergy between these events than might first appear â first is that the USSR learned its lessons from its bloody nine-year occupation of Afghanistan, withdrawing its troops in 1989, while Washington has yet to see the light at the end of the Khyber Pass after a decade.
A U.S. Cold War policy that has survived for 51 years celebrates its anniversary in October â the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. For three decades the USSR was Cubaâs stalwart ally, giving Washington pause after the ill-fated April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, which in turn led to the Cuban Missile crisis six months later. The U.S. still treats Cuba as it did then, a point of some relevance to Einsteinâs wry observation.
Cuba fell into the USSRâs lap because of U.S. Latin American foreign policy. Now, in an eerie replay of those days, the entire continent is shifting towards deeper relations with Moscow, a situation for which Washington has solely itself to blame, having fixated for the past decade on punishing Muslim terrorists.
If stories of Washingtonâs âglobal war on terrorâ have dominated the U.S. media for the last ten years, then surely the biggest overlooked story in Washington is how its influence in Central and Latin America has ebbed away during that same period, a country at a time.
And, as in 1960, one of the chief beneficiaries is Russia, not through any dynamic policy initiatives, but because the Latin low-hanging fruit is literally falling into its lap. Nothing better epitomizes this than Russian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's upcoming official visits to El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela, scheduled for 21-25 August.
During an interview with Russkoe Informatsionnoe Agentsvo Novosti Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich discussed Lavrovâs visits, saying, âIn recent years, Russia's relations with Latin American countries have acquired a qualitatively new momentum. It is important that the intensification of our ties with Latin American countries fits into the new configuration of international relations of the contemporary multi-polar world. This is a new level of interaction between the evolving development centers, one of which is to become Latin America. Its leading states demonstrate an ability to actively and productively participate in dealing with issues on the global agenda and in economic growth rates the region is second only perhaps to Asia. Not for nothing have experts begun to talk of the dawn of a âLatin American decade.ââ
Since 2008 Latin America has assumed a higher and higher priority in Russian foreign policy, as evidenced by the 22 summit and more than 60 high-level meetings held between Russia and various Central and Latin American nations. In words certain to cheer every Central and Latin American politician anxious to reduce Washingtonâs heavy regional thumbprint, Lukashevich added, âAt the core of our political contacts is the fundamental concurrence of approaches to the formation of a new polycentric world order and settlement of key international issues on a collective basis.â
In other welcome news for the Latino leaders, Russia is interested in expanding bilateral trade links, âparticularly in light of the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.â Last year, Russian trade with the region soared by 15 percent to $12.4 billion. Russia envisages bilateral projects in fields ranging from space to nuclear power generation, while Aeroflot and Transaero are to restore direct air links with Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba and Chile.
If Fidel remains Washingtonâs favorite bÃªte noire, then Venezuelaâs Hugo Chavez comes a close second. In a tart rebuke to U.S. regional unilateralism Lukashevich said, âOf fundamental importance is the similarity of Russia and Venezuela's approaches toward creating a more just and democratic world order. At its foundation we see the principles of multilateralism and due consideration for the legitimate interests of states, the maintenance of peace and stability, strengthening the UN's central role and respect for international law.â
It remains to be seen how much concrete results will be achieved by Lavrovâs visit, much Moscowâs regional approach contrasts starkly with Americaâs paternalistic Big Brotherâ Monroe Doctrine attitudes and the Kremlin initiatives are accordingly being given a warm reception.
A final petit but telling episode underlines the contrasts between Washington and Moscow to the region. Russia now has visa-free travel agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Chile and Ecuador and is negotiating similar treaties with Guatemala, Panama and Uruguay. Try suggesting such a policy to the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.
What is still singularly lacking in Washingtonâs approach to the region is respect âfor the legitimate interests of states,â with the U.S. administration apparently still believing that Central and Latin American governments should pay heed above all other considerations to Washingtonâs pronunciamentos.
If for no other reason than the regionâs vast oil reserves, Washington should change its attitudes. After all, OPEC announced this week that Venezuelaâs proven oil reserves exceed Saudi Arabiaâs, and Brazilâs offshore oil deposits are certain to make it one of the 21st centuryâs rising export states. As the U.S. will remain the worldâs largest importer of energy for the foreseeable future, this fact alone should cause Washingtonâs bureaucrats to reorient their policies towards Central and Latin America.
Remember Einsteinâs dictum â the Kremlin certainly is.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com