Rus­sia courts left­ist na­tions in Amer­ica’s back yard

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KELLY HEARN

Rus­sia is ex­pand­ing its pres­ence in left-lean­ing Latin Amer­i­can na­tions, with an of­fer of aid to Bo­livia to re­place drug-fight­ing money cut off by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion — the lat­est ex­pan­sion of Moscow’s ties with a re­gion be­set by de­clin­ing U.S. in­flu­ence. Iran and China are also ac­tively court­ing sev­eral na­tions in the re­gion. The ef­forts typ­i­cally tar­get na­tions that have turned left­ward in demo­cratic elec­tions, with Bo­livia, Nicaragua and Venezuela among the most prom­i­nent.

“The Em­bassy of Rus­sia has of­fi­cially re­quested that a gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion come to Moscow to dis­cuss co­op­er­a­tion in anti-drug ef­forts,” Felipe Cac­eres, Bo­livia’s drug czar, told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a tele­phone in­ter­view on Sept. 18.

“There are two kinds of sup­port we are talk­ing about. First is sup­port for of­fi­cials and per­son­nel, and the other is the pos­si­ble use of high-alti­tude he­li­copters.”

Ten­sions be­tween Bo­livia and the United States neared the break­ing point this month, when dozens of peo­ple were killed in a bat­tle be­tween loy­al­ists and op­po­nents of the gov­ern­ment of left­ist Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales for con­trol of nat­u­ral gas ex­ports.

Bo­livia and the U.S. have ex­pelled each other’s am­bas­sadors, and the U.S. has be­gun evac­u­at­ing nonessen­tial per­son­nel from its em­bassy in La Paz amid bloody bat­tles that pit­ted Mo­rales sup­port­ers — mostly In­di­ans from the na­tion’s east­ern high­lands — against Bo­li­vians of Euro­pean de­scent in the en­ergy-rich east.

As the bat­tles raged, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion “de­cer­ti­fied” Bo­livia as a na­tion co­op­er­at­ing in the U.S.-led war on drugs, putting up to $30 mil­lion in U.S. aid in jeop­ardy.

Mr. Cac­eres said pro­posed co­op­er­a­tion with Moscow was not in­tended as a slight to the U.S. and that Bo­livia wel­comes help “from any state that does not put con­di­tions on us.”

In re­cent years, Rus­sia has stepped up its out­reach to Latin Amer­ica, as has China and, to a lesser ex­tent, Iran. Ef­forts typ­i­cally in­clude for­eign aid, joint ven­tures to de­velop en­ergy re­sources, tech­nol­ogy trans­fers and weapons sales — de­vel­op­ments that defy cen­turies of U.S. dom­i­na­tion of the West­ern Hemi­sphere un­der what is known as the Mon­roe Doc­trine.

The Rus­sian quest for in­flu­ence fol­lows elec­tions of left­ist leaders with strong anti-Amer­i­can cre­den­tials in Bo­livia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The U.S. de­nies its in­flu­ences in Latin Amer­ica are on the de­cline.

“We be­lieve that, the be­hav­ior of leaders of a cou­ple of th­ese coun­tries notwith­stand­ing, that over­all the co­op­er­a­tion in the hemi­sphere is be­com­ing greater be­tween the United States and other coun­tries in the hemi­sphere, and that over­all the trend lines are pos­i­tive,” State Depart­ment spokesman Sean McCormack said Sept. 18.

Two weeks ago, a top Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion vis­ited Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to dis­cuss tech­nol­ogy trans­fers, en­ergy joint ven­tures and diplo­matic ges­tures that an­a­lysts say are de­signed to ir­ri­tate Wash­ing­ton.

On Sept. 15, Rus­sian Vice Pres­i­dent Igor Ivanovich Sechin ar­rived in a hur­ri­cane-bat­tered Cuba where Moscow had sent hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, ac­cord­ing to Cuba’s State News Agency.

A day later, the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion an­nounced that it in­tends to share its space tech­nol­ogy with Cuba and that both coun­tries are in talks to build a space cen­ter on the is­land na­tion, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian news agency RIA Novosti.

Wire re­ports quote of­fi­cials say­ing that Moscow and Ha­vana want to share re­mote-sens­ing satel­lites, space-based telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and Cuba’s Glonass satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

Also two weeks ago, Rus­sia deep­ened links with oil-rich Venezuela, whose pres­i­dent, Hugo Chavez, has re­ferred to Pres­i­dent Bush as the devil.

In sol­i­dar­ity with Ecuador, Venezuela also ex­pelled its U.S. am­bas­sador this month and the U.S. re­cip­ro­cated.

When the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion vis­ited Venezuela this month, the two coun­tries

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin, right, and Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez are seen dur­ing their meet­ing in the Novo-Ogar yovo res­i­dence out­side Moscow, on Sept. 25. Putin said Rus­sia is will­ing to dis­cuss fur ther mil­i­tar y con­tacts with Venezuela and also help with its plans to de­velop nu­clear en­ergy for peace­ful pur­poses.

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