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Dangerous Ally: Russia in Latin America

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Mar 7, 2014, 8:25 am

EspañolThe ongoing crisis in Venezuela, the instability of its current regime, and the increasingly volatile situation in Ukraine, has caused some troubling developments to have gone unnoticed. Russia is reportedly in negotiations with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba to establish military bases in their territories.

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Vladamir Putin and Nicolás Maduro reaffirm their strategic alliance after the death of Hugo Chávez. Source: La Patilla.

From the Latin-American perspective, this fact clearly demonstrates the inconsistency in the principles advocated by these governments. In 2010, the decision by Colombia to negotiate a military agreement with the United States generated a massive diplomatic crisis, despite the fact that this decision would have merely permitted the presence of the United States on a few of Colombia’s bases. The creation of new bases or the authority of the United States to manage any existing bases was never even considered. The difference here with the Russian proposal is that it does, in fact, include these aspects in their arrangement.

It could be argued that the circumstances in the region have changed. However, this assumption is put into question when we consider that only a few weeks ago, at the inconsequential CELAC summit, the region was declared a “peace zone” — a fact seemingly contradicted by this new proposal.

What this potential agreement shows is that these negotiating countries do not necessarily reject hegemony or imperialism by definition. They welcome it, depending on where it comes from or who is exercising it. This inconsistency, in turn, reflects the ideology in which these governments are based. In theory, they defend a multilateral international order, but in reality, they promote an agenda based on coercion and the threat of conflict.

Therefore, they accept and promote the leadership of actors who are neither desirable nor capable. This is evident in the case of Russia. The leadership of that country, where restrictions on civil liberties are complemented by poor economic freedom, is not desirable from any point of view. The way in which the Russian government exercises its control domestically, through heavy-handed force, is not unlike the way it acts internationally — a reflection of their leadership’s imperialistic predisposition. Consequently, this is a country whose rulers have no intention of ever submitting to a common set of ground rules that would allow for peace to be maintained in an international environment.

However, not only is Russian leadership in the region not desirable, it is also not going to happen. Some experts believe Russia has a promising future. Perhaps, but there are so many conditions that these experts look to for the possibility of development that the same could be said of any other country that is doing some things right. As usual, these experts also base their predictions on some macroeconomic aggregates and the premise that the West (the United States) is to blame for the problems of the past. Therefore, they minimize the fact that Russia’s economy is based on natural resources and high levels of corruption, and it lacks an institutional framework for the development of a strong private sector.

These experts do not understand that development is not generated because of outside assistance or because there may be some potential in a chosen sector, like technology. It is, rather, the result of the an environment based in liberty in all of its manifestations. Russian authorities do not subscribe to this belief.

Further, it isn’t possible because Russia’s strength in the international community is based on its military capability. This may allow it to gain strength in the short term, but to be a leader in the international order, it also requires a strong economic base and a level of attractiveness in other areas (be they cultural or political). As demonstrated by Ludwig von Mises with regard to domestic policy, it is not possible to govern exclusively through the use of force. At some point, leadership requires the support of the majority, or several minorities, that allow it to maintain power.

Latin America’s inconsistency — a product of a prevalent, distorted ideology — would be dismissed as a mere anecdote if not for its continued promotion of such leadership failure. Besides representing a decline in the values that have allowed for the evolution of modern civilization, it also threatens the stability of the region and of the world as a whole. Of course, this is irrelevant to those leaders whose vision for peace includes fomenting repression, poverty, and the growth of totalitarianism.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.