Latin America: What Comes After the Back Yard

Source: La Journada

After the recent sixth Summit of the Americas there remains little doubt that the Latin American region has changed. It stopped being the back- yard of a decadent empire that has very little to offer save military bases and threatening fleets. The double failure of the United States, by Barack Obama in Cartagena and by Hillary Clinton the following week in Brasilia, shows the lack of constructive proposals for the region.

As Dilma Rousseff pointed out, countries of the region demand “ relations among equals,” which was interpreted by some analysts as “a rebellion against the United States.” The summit’s principal consequence is proof of US isolation and the non-existence of policies capable of attracting the region jointly as happened until the middle of the 1990s. I find five reasons for the deterioration of Washington’s relations with the entire continent, which anticipate the new scenario in formation.

The first is the double failure of the drug war and the embargo of Cuba. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington had to fabricate an enemy to continue forcing the militarization of international relations. Illegal drug trafficking fulfilled that function for a while, despite never being credible because it did not include a reduction of consumption in northern countries, the big consumers of illegal drugs.

Now the war against drugs lost the battle for legitimacy. The International Institute of Strategic Studies just launched a study in which it affirms that it not only failed in combating consumption and trafficking, but also the war against drugs “has created an important threat to international security” (La Jornada, April 17). Was that not perhaps the desired objective?

The second is the end of the OAS’ time and the consolidation of Unasur (Union of South American Nations) and Celac (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), both of which exclude the United States and Canada and adjust to the new global reality. Following the already marked tendency by Unasur since 2009, Celac is rapidly becoming the organism capable of resolving the region’s problems and of tracing the direction of its sovereignty before the extra-continental powers. It can be discussed whether that is the type of integration that the Latin American peoples need, but there is no room for doubt that, whatever the path they elect, they are excluding the old property owners from the back yard.

In third place, the United States no longer is the principal trade associate of the region’s principal countries, particularly of South America, and its decreasing internal market no longer has the attraction of old nor is it in any condition to capture Latin American exports. The tendency is that China and the Asia group substitute for the role that the United States had from the beginning of the 20th Century until the 2008 crisis as the decisive trade and political ally.

Until 2005, the United States purchased 1.5 million barrels per day from Venezuela, a number that fell in 2011 to less than one million. To the contrary, Venezuelan exports to China, which were almost non-existent in 2005, climbed to almost a half million barrels per day n 2011 (Geab No. 60, December 2011). The tendency is that one market substitutes for the other.

The United States and the European Union, in fourth place, are on the way to being displaced as the principal investors in Latin America. China is the principal investor in Venezuela, the first world reserve for oil, third for bauxite, fourth reserve for gold, in sixth position in natural gas and tenth reserve of iron in the world. China also has strong investments in Argentina and Brazil, the two largest South American economies.

The second Chinese oil company, Sinopec, was interested in buying a part of Repsol in YPF for 15 billion dollars before the nationalization decided by the government of Cristina Fernández (Financial Times, April 18, 2012). Now it can expand its investments in Argentina, where it is responsible for 6 percent of the offer of crude and for 1.7 percent of gas.

The region also has endogenous capabilities for investment. The best example is the announcement of the investment of 16 billion dollars by three Brazilian companies (Petrobras, Odebrecht and Braskem) in Peru, to extract gas in Camisea, to construct a gas duct of more than a thousand kilometers toward the south and a petrochemical pole in the port city of Ilo, the first on the Pacific Coast.

In fifth place, the United States no longer is the region’s only military ally. Venezuela maintains a solid alliance with Russia, Brazil has co-operation agreements with India in aeronautics and with China in the space industry. But the most notable is the progressive integration of the region’s military industries, in other words the coupling of the South American countries with the growing Brazilian military industry.

The most notable case is the strategic alliance between Brazil and Argentina, which translates into joint development of protection, a military carrier that will substitute for the Hercules, the development of air-to-air missiles that Brazil worked on with South Africa, and unmanned planes for border vigilance. Both countries form a critical mass capable of trumping the rest to set up a regional military industry autonomous from the north.

The imminent victory of the socialist François Hollande in the French elections “will activate a series of strategic changes” that accelerate the geopolitical transitions underway, according to what the European Laboratory of Political Anticipation (Laboratorio Europeo de Anticipación Política) estimates. See: (Geab No. 54, April 17, 2012). One of the principal turns will be the formation of a Europe-BRICS strategic alliance. In some way, this alliance already started with the 2009 France-Brazil military agreement to construct submarines and attack planes. The region’s autonomization can have unexpected allies.