- The Kremlin is trying to strengthen ties with Latin American countries amidst political-economic isolation after the invasion of Ukraine.
- Russia hosted an inter-parliamentary conference with Latin American delegates to confront Western sanctions and strengthen the Global South. Proposed collaboration areas included legislative exchange, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, and the defense of national sovereignty.
- Kremlin officials attempted to demonstrate that Russia was breaking up external pressure imposed by Western countries. In contrast, others cautioned about challenges due to how most Latin American countries view the “special military operation.”
On February 3, the Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision (Rosselkhoznadzor) banned the import of bananas from the five largest Ecuadorian companies under the pretext of sanitary concerns. In practice, this move was most likely caused by the Ecuadorian government’s decision to sell dated Russian/Soviet military equipment to the United States to be reportedly transferred to Ukraine (Moscowtimes.ru, February 3). This happened even though, for the past several months, the Kremlin has invested substantial resources in strengthening ties with countries of the Latin America and the Caribbean macro-region to overcome the political-economic isolation following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. For this outcome, Russia tried to use two events to foster political ties with its Latin American counterparts: an economic forum and an inter-parliamentary conference
The first event was the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in last year. Representatives of several Latin American countries gathered in Russia to discuss de-dollarization, alternatives to SWIFT, and the re-establishment of logistical ties, bringing them to “at least the level of the pre-1991 period.” While no specific decisions were adopted, the sides agreed that Russia and (selected) Latin American countries should concentrate their efforts on two critical outcomes in the future.
The first outcome was how the de-dollarization of international trade could be accelerated by using national currencies. Both Laureano Ortega Murillo, a special representative of the President of Nicaragua on ties with Russia, and Juan Carlos García Granda, the Minister of Tourism of Cuba, noted that the most effective method for the de-dollarization of international trade between Russia and Latin America would be to use the Cuban experience and increase the use of Russia’s Mir card payment system. Additionally, Boris Titov, the Russian presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, suggested turning back to the Soviet experience of using the so-called “clearing roubles”—a sub-type of quasi-barter trade between members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance— which, according to Titov, “seriously allowed for the upgrade of the level of trade between the countries” (Roscongress.org, accessed February 4).
The second outcome was the creation of a joint transportation system with major logistical hubs in Latin America. The representative of Cuba noted that the country has all the necessary infrastructure. In contrast, Blas Cristaldo Moniz, the head of the Association of Manufacturing Cooperatives of the Republic of Paraguay, stressed the need to act as promptly as possible and find ways of establishing direct export-import schemes between Russia and its Latin American partners (Roscongress.org, accessed February 4).
The inter-parliamentary conference, “Russia-Latin America,” occurred in Moscow last fall between September 29 and October 2.The conference hosted over 200 delegates from various Latin American countries. Russia openly declared the event’s goals to be “confronting Western sanctions” and the need to strengthen the potential of the Global South (Ria.ru, October 1, 2023). Among statements put forth by Russia’s foreign guests of particular importance were remarks by Jorge Rodriguez, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, and Juan Esteban Lazo Hernández, the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba, who spoke against the “United States and their satellites’ economic sanctions.” These sanctions have been imposed on more than thirty countries, and they strongly disapproved of “US and NATO military infrastructure getting dangerously close to the Russian borders” (1tv.ru, October 2, 2023). From his side, Vasily Piskaryov, a deputy for the United Russia party in the 7th State Duma of the Russian Federation, proposed organizing the exchange of legislative practices between Russia’s parliament and their Latin American counterparts. He also suggested including “cybersecurity, counter-extremist, -terrorism, and -organized crime, and defense of national sovereignty” in collaboration between Russian and Latin American governments. He further suggested to “organize work on elaborating common positions [on these areas] in international forums and platforms” (Ria.ru, October 1, 2023).
The event’s keynote was the inaugural speech delivered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among other aspects, he stated that “We [Russia] are standing for Latin America… to be strong, independent and successful for which purpose we are ready to build ties both on the bilateral level as well as regional integrational blocks in Latin America, such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, with the Southern Common Market” (Kremlin.ru, September 29, 2023). He also pointed out Russia’s interest in working with Latin American countries through their increased participation (and even membership) in BRICS. In his message, Putin, rather predictably and in many ways similar to his pleas to African members, dedicated a large part to addressing grievances of the past, issues related to colonialism, and the privileged status of countries that comprise the so-called “golden billion” (a popular conspiracy theory) that continue “misusing their technological, informational and financial advantages” to rip profits from other nations. He also remarked on Russia’s readiness to address this injustice by creating a counterbalance to the West through building strong ties between the Eurasian Economic Union and Latin American countries and forging further and tighter cooperation in trade, tariffs, investments, and technology transfer (Ria.ru, September 29, 2023).
Assessing the impact and the value of these two events, Russian officials (and the Kremlin’s propaganda) attempted to show them as an undisputable success of Moscow and yet another sign that Russia is easily breaking up external pressure imposed on it by Western countries. Ultra-conservative sources, on the other hand, took a much more cautious approach. For instance, while conservative experts indeed admitted that the role of the United States in Latin America is decreasing, this is not caused by Russia’s growing presence either but is mainly related to China’s rapidly growing power. China, “even though declaratively [Russia’s] ally, is aiming to achieve its interests” rather than share interests with Russia in this region. It has also been suggested that individuals who dominate the Latin American political environment have apparent ties and sympathies to the United States and actively lobby for “Washington’s interests.” On top of that, Russian experts warned that except for Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, the absolute majority of regional countries negatively (to a varying extent) perceive the so-called “Special Military Operation,” which also hurts the format of activities and the future of the dialogue between Russia and Latin American countries (Eadaily.com, September 29, 2023).