The growing influence of Russia and China in South America is not yet a serious strategic threat to the United States. On the 12th of August, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who arrived in Brazil as part of his “Latin American tour”, has addressed to the journalists with such statement. Despite the fact that during the period of Donald Trump’s presidency, the White House did not want to offer any positive agenda to the countries of the region, the United States decided again to emphasize close and friendly ties with its “backyard” once in the past. At the same time, the Minister of Defense intends to warn about the danger and harmfulness of the active development of relations with Beijing and Moscow. Which results will bring the “Latin American tour” of the representative of the White House to the region? Will Latin America become a new arena for geopolitical “games” of Russia, China and the US?
His first stop in the Latin American region as the head of the Ministry of Defense, James Mattis, made in Brazil, where he met with the heads of the Brazilian Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also exposed at the Military Academy. It should be noted that Mattis’s negotiations with the Foreign Minister of Brazil Aloysio Nunes Ferreira were of a closed nature.
On the eve of Mattis’s visit, the Pentagon, in his official message, stressed that the White House declared the 2018th Year of the Americas, and the minister’s visits will demonstrate close ties in the line of defense with Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. It is worth recalling that this year is not the first “Latin American tour” of the representatives of the White House, the former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the vice-president Michael Pence have already visited the region. As many analysts note, these visits shared a common goal – to send a signal about strengthening inter-American alliances amid increased interest in the region from the main competitors of the US: China and Russia. The official statement of the US Department of Defense indicated that these relations are crucial for the cooperation, prosperity and security of the entire Western Hemisphere. During his speech at the military academy of Brazil, Mattis has repeatedly noted that the US supports “sovereign decisions of sovereign states”, but are concerned about the potentially destructive “encroachments of other countries”. Undoubtedly, by other countries it means Russia and China, which in the last few years have been successfully “building up” ties with Latin America. In the development of active relations between Moscow and Beijing in the region, the White House sees “attempts to reshape the existing world order”.
A few days before Mattis’ Latin American tour, Admiral Kurt Tidd, the head of the US Southern Command, said that the US cannot pay attention only to what Russia and China are “doing” in Europe or in the South China Sea. But in Latin America, according to Tidd, competition is much closer to the United States. The representatives of the White House have repeatedly noted that in the struggle for influence, the most important thing that can be done is to fight on their own.
According to the representatives of the US authorities, Moscow is increasing its military presence in Latin America more aggressively every day, sending ships there, supplying the countries of the region with advanced weapons and conducting reconnaissance operations. For Russia, this desire is linked, first of all, with the restoration of its influence and the strengthening of military ties with many Latin American states. Firstly, the White House accuses the Kremlin of conducting various campaigns of influence in order to gain advantage in the region. The Admiral Kurt Tidd said in his statements that allegedly from Russia in Peru for a long time, “unfavorable propaganda characterized negatively the capabilities of North American armored vehicles Stryker”. According to him, as a result, this led to the disruption of the deal with the United States and the supply of upgraded APCs (armoured personnel carriers) at a low price in Peru from Russia.
Indeed, in recent years the Kremlin has been offering Latin American countries technics, equipments at very competitive and favorable prices in comparison with American counterparts and, moreover, adapted to local climatic conditions. By the way, in Latin America, Russian helicopters and small arms are in high demand. In the region, the “Su-30” and “MiG-29M/M2” airplanes are of particular interest. The most important partner of Russia in the export of military equipment is still Venezuela, where a significant number of arms of various types are delivered. In addition, military equipment is popular in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. To date, the Kremlin has high hopes for deepening cooperation in this area with Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico. As part of the recent visit of Argentinean leader Macri to Moscow, new prospects for Russian-Argentine cooperation in the field of joint production of naval equipment were outlined.
From the very beginning, the victory of Donald Trump in the last elections in the US caused concern in most countries of Latin America. As the following measures and events showed, this was not groundless. After the period of Barack Obama, during which it was possible to improve the overall climate in inter-American relations, to get a certain clarity of the direction of the White House’s main agenda in the region, the new US leader already in the first months took action against the interests of Latin American states. A great response was caused by the US withdrawal from the agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the participation of Mexico, Peru and Chile. After that, a decision was made to review the conditions and the degree of North American integration and heavy negotiations began with Mexico. As the leading Mexican economists emphasize, regardless of the final outcome of these negotiations, the Mexican economy has already begun to incur losses.
An acute reaction in the Latin American region was caused by the commercial wars unfolded by Trump, in which Argentina and Brazil were drawn. It is worth mentioning that we are talking about prohibitive tariffs for the import of biofuel in the US and the increase in customs duties on steel and aluminum. In recent years, a number of countries (Colombia, Peru, Chile, etc.) have become “preachers” of free and independent trade, participants in the emerging regional integration associations. For these countries, the new economic policy of Donald Trump was a direct threat.
However, business is not limited only to the economy. For example, with Mexico, the contradictions on migration issues have “heated up”, the level of cooperation with Cuba has dropped sharply compared with the “warming” in relations between the two countries during the Obama presidency, and interference in the political life of Nicaragua has been observed. Every day the Pentagon increases pressure on the main US opponent in the region – Venezuela. At the moment, one of Trump’s main goals in the region has been to cut off the “financial oxygen” of Caracas by imposing sanctions, and ultimately to overthrow the current leadership in this state, it is possible, as many international analysts believe, that the US can resort to force methods.
To date, the region of the Caribbean has become a zone of acute contradictions and conflicts. In the last two years, the days of the Caribbean crisis are increasingly recalled. For the United States, the Caribbean is a “tasty” piece, because the largest oil reserves are concentrated there. In turn, the Panama Canal remains the most important inter-oceanic artery. In recent years, countries in this region, especially Venezuela, have already significantly strengthened cooperation in various spheres with Russia and China, which has sharply undermined the traditional dominance of the United States. What other measures the White House will take to return its “back yard” will show the coming months. However, Washington’s attempt to “win back” can have serious negative consequences for the Latin American states.