Russians in Latin America 2.0

Then as now, Russia doesn't have much to offer its perceived allies
June 28, 2019 Updated: June 28, 2019

History, as the historians like to remind us, repeats itself. And so, it goes again in the 21st century: The Russian Navy is once again parked in Havana’s harbor in support of one more failed, dictatorial, anti-American regime in Latin America. It feels like 1962 all over again.

A Play of Socialist Tragedies

The socialist tragedy Venezuela has become really began in Havana when Fidel Castro and his guerilla fighters rode into the capital in January 1959. He was greeted by cheers from the Cuban people and the left wingers in the American media and academia. Then came the Russian nukes and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the mass imprisonment of Cubans who disagreed with the state confiscating their property, and of course, the executions as well as Castro’s torturous six-hour speeches.

It’s been pretty much downhill from there. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, communist Cuba continues to this very day, though the Cuban economy and people remain stuck somewhere in the past. A reasonable estimate would be around 1964, but one could certainly argue for 1959.

The Venezuelan tragedy we see playing out today is exceedingly poor theater. Based on a fictional work by Marx that was interpreted by Fidel Castro to catastrophic ends, it was adapted by Hugo Chavez 20 years ago, and, since 2013, remains shamelessly forced upon a Venezuelan audience by Nicolas Maduro. But this Latin American production has been underwritten by a Russian, Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s Hollow World

However, after crossing the Atlantic in both new and vintage naval vessels, what does Russia bring to the Venezuelan people, who are suffering from widespread hunger, disease, a lack of medical care and other deprivations? Russia brings $209 million worth of military aircraft maintenance and $38 million worth of military uniforms.

Why would Russia only bring military hardware and services? The answer is sad and so utterly pedestrian. What more can Russia offer today?

Can Putin help restore Venezuela’s economic or market development? Can he deliver advanced agricultural techniques or new medicines? Technology or manufacturing automation? More efficient oil extraction and refinement techniques? Sadly, none of those things. Russia’s economy is as hollow as an empty oil drum.

That’s a tragic reality because the Russians aren’t an illiterate or incapable nation. They put the first satellite in space, and can boast of many other scientific and artistic achievements. And yet, without help from American oil companies, even the petroleum and natural gas they so rely on for their economy would still remain untouched beneath the frozen tundra of Siberia and other places.

A Shrinking Global Footprint

Today, as in the Cold War, the Russians are all about projecting their power wherever they think they can. But there’s at least one big difference this time around. In 2019, the Russians aren’t the global superpower they used to be. In their former incarnation as the Soviet Union, they at least had a global vision, horrific as it was, of spreading communism.

But then, in 1989, they lost the Cold War and their global footprint shrank to its correct shoe size—about a 7.5, narrow width with low heels. Eastern Europe was released from their tyrannical grip and once again blossomed economically and culturally. And without Soviet subsidies like sugar and other staples, places like Cuba and Nicaragua were more or less reduced to an exotic stamp for people who want to fill their passports with collector’s items.

Then along came Hugo Chavez. In rhetoric that sounded frighteningly similar to that of the current democratic debates, he convinced one of the wealthiest, most advanced nations in Latin America that life would be better if only they followed Cuba’s political path. Which brings us forward two decades to a Venezuela where things are so bad that, yes, if things improved, they might rise up to the level of the “walking dead” economy that Cuba has had for 50 years.

A Blast from the Past

Will the Russians and Vladimir Putin to save the day? Nyet.

Russia has its objectives, but they’re not about saving Venezuela from its socialist nightmare. Rather, Russia’s goal is to prevent Maduro, an ideological and military ally, from losing his grip on power. That, in turn, is about minimizing and containing American influence in the region and complicating its ability to act elsewhere.

With Russian troops—and Cuban, too—planted in strategic spots throughout Venezuela it’s a blast from the past for both. Russians and Cubans had a grand time destabilizing Angola back in the ‘70s. It’s like two old fogies dancing to an old song. But some things as better left in the distant past.

A Dangerous, Declining Power

What grand ideas or visions is Russia propagating today in Latin America—or Syria, Crimea or any other place in the world? Protection of human rights? Capital investment into a struggling economy? Access to the vast Russian consumer market?

Nyet, nyet, and nyet. Russia can offer none of those things. It has become a purveyor of oppression and poverty and, as President Donald Trump so bluntly put it, a declining power.

Putin knows this is true; that’s what makes him so dangerous. He knows that he must change the facts on the ground, and soon. Otherwise, his country, with its aging and declining population, one-trick gas station economy and underutilized people will be left irretrievably behind.

It is the modus operandi of all dictators throughout history that stifle their nation in order to rule it: What Russia can’t produce or create itself, it must take from others. Russia, and other backward nations around the world, is only a shadow of what it could be. But to realize its potential, its people must be free to develop themselves and think beyond the small, narrow ideas their rulers impose on them.

James Gorrie is a writer based in Texas. He is the author of “The China Crisis.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.