A friend in Buenos Aires sends this analysis…
“Latin America has suddenly become very interesting. There are intersecting issues – domestic and geopolitical. There is a general way to state this. In times of crisis between great powers, local issues get energized by the international conflict. The changes in Russian- American relations reverberate in corners of the world that have been neglected since the Cold War. There are a lot of shifts taking place everywhere, and we have mentioned them all in previous Guidances. Let’s focus on Latin America this week. That is not a place that has been really exciting geopolitically in the past, but it is getting there now.
“1. Bolivia nearing the boiling point: Bolivia is in a near civil war, with regional powers – particularly Brazil – looking on uneasily. The United States is confronting Evo Morales, the radical president of Bolivia. It is a very traditional confrontation, with a Latin American radical challenging the United States. New powers like Brazil are in the mix, and Russia could use the crisis to give the United States other headaches. We need to watch both internal and global implications.
“2. Venezuela and Russia: The Venezuelans and the Russians are getting close. The military implications are trivial at this point, but having a potential patron energizes Venezuela in new ways and gives it confidence. We need to watch the effect on foreign companies in Venezuela and long-term collaboration.
“3. Colombian guerrillas: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had ties to Cuba and the Soviets in the old days. Those FARC leaders who are still alive and not in nursing homes still have active contacts. The Russians could really jerk the American chain in Colombia – and depending on how the United States acts in the former Soviet Union, the Russians will do just that. We need to watch the FARC now and see if it reaches out to the Russians.
“4. Nicaragua: Nicaragua – dormant since the 1980s – has its old President Daniel Ortega and its old rhetoric back, and it is backing Russia in Georgia to the hilt. We need to watch Nicaragua and the rest of Central America, especially El Salvador, to see if this is going anywhere.
“5. Mexico’s cartels: The cartels in Mexico are fighting the government and each other. If Ukraine is invited into NATO, the Russians would love to give payback in Mexico. The Russians used to have close ties to the Mexican left, and Russian organized criminal groups are currently involved in criminal activities such as prostitution and human smuggling in Mexico. And certainly, through the Cubans, the Russians know their way around Latin American drug traffickers.
“Instability in Mexico would be an interesting strategy for Russia – not that Mexico needs much help there. But the smuggling routes could carry all sorts of goodies into the United States.
“6. Cuba: Cuba remains the mystery. Havana is oddly quiet. Are there discussions going on with the United States? There should be, as far as the United States is concerned, but with an election coming, such talks are hard to set up. The Cubans don’t seem to want to play the Nicaraguan game. One scenario is that after the election, the Bush administration could move to normalize relations with Cuba and take the heat. The administration’s ratings will not matter and cannot go any lower. There is no evidence this will happen; it is just a theory.
“7. Russia’s behavior in Latin America: In general we need to see whether the Russians start renewing old friendships on the Latin American left, with intellectuals and ambitious colonels and majors.
“Watch Argentina, Chile and Brazil. They are the big targets always.”
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