Vladimir Putin’s six-day Latin American tour this past week reveals that, in the face of tougher economic sanctions by the United States and perhaps the European Union over the Ukraine crisis, the Russian president will not be quiescent. Anticipating an intensifying showdown on Ukraine, Putin took advantage of a meeting of the BRICS countries in Brazil to pursue a diplomatic initiative and call on political support in Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Brazil.
Latin America, generally — and this set of four countries, for different reasons — offers hospitable terrain for Putin’s aims. Although all these governments prize sovereignty and nonintervention when it comes to dealing with the United States, none is prepared to strongly condemn Moscow for its aggressive behavior toward Ukraine.
Whatever their ideological stripe, the governments of Latin America have to weigh the continued reservoir of goodwill for Russia, dating back to the Cold War, among sectors of the left. At the same time, however, with few exceptions they are loath to extend the degree of solidarity Putin seeks and instead prefer to remain on the sidelines. Posturing aside, most do not want to risk economic and political relationships with the United States and Europe over Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
What most unites all of the Latin American left — in fact, virtually the only issue that brings together the whole region, across the political spectrum — is the fierce opposition to the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba, the country that Putin shrewdly made the first stop on his trip. For many Latin Americans, sanctions are associated with what they view as Washington’s anachronistic and counterproductive policy toward Cuba. (The sanctions being considered in the U.S. Congress against the Venezuelan government for human rights abuses similarly arouse anti-American sentiment across the region.)
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