Russia Becoming More Visible on Caribbean Shores
Nil Nikandrov - http://www.strategic-culture.org
Russia intends to take a more active role on the international arena, including in the Western Hemisphere. Russia's base countries in the region are Cuba and Nicaragua. Since the times of the Soviet Union, relations with these countries were perceived by Washington as a threat which must be «neutralized» by any means. After the collapse of the USSR, many Russian embassies, trade missions, and news bureaus in Latin America were closed, and hundreds of specialists on Latin America were out of work. Over the past decade, the Russian government has made significant efforts to rebuild and further strengthen Russia's position in Cuba and Nicaragua.
A stable political dialog with Havana has been established on the highest level. The former (USSR era) level of strategic partnership has been rebuilt. An extremely important document which opens up prospects of cooperation is an intergovernmental program for trade and economic and research and development cooperation up to 2020. Russia places great significance on establishing direct contacts between economic operators from both countries. Reforms being conducted in Cuba are attracting Russian business and guarantee large investments. Among promising areas are petrochemicals; medicine and pharmaceuticals; and energy, in particular the construction of new power producing units and delivery of equipment for Cuban cogeneration plants. Russian specialists continue to conduct oil surveying on the island and its shelf. The discovery of hydrocarbon fields will give a new impetus to Russian-Cuban cooperation.
Russia and Nicaragua renewed economic ties and military cooperation after the return of Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinista revolution, to power… In 2008 Ortega met with the Russian president as part of a conference of member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America which took place in Caracas. Several months later Nicaragua recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, giving Moscow political support after the Russian-Georgian War. Russia did not leave the favor unanswered. The Central American republic received several thousand tractors and 50 combines, as well as 100,000 tons of wheat. Thanks to Russia's help, Ortega's government is able to maintain low prices for baked goods for the country's populace. The Nicaraguan parliament has ratified an agreement on the opening of a Russian science and culture center in Managua. Nicaraguans will be able to study the Russian language. The best students will receive scholarships for studies in Russian institutes of higher learning.
The countries are developing joint programs in agriculture, energy, and peaceful use of outer space. One agreement stipulates that Nicaraguan Internet users will be able to use the services of the GLONASS global satellite navigation system once it is commissioned. The system will be an alternative to the American GPS system. Bilateral relations with regard to armaments cooperation are developing actively. Russia is helping to rearm the Nicaraguan army and is assisting in the training of its officers. For this purpose, the Marshal G. Zhukov Training Center was created.
The Nicaraguan parliament has ratified a cabinet resolution allowing Russian military divisions, ships and aircraft to visit the republic during the first half of 2014 for experience sharing and training of military personnel of the Central American republic. Furthermore, the parliament has approved the participation of Russian military personnel in joint patrols of the republic's territorial waters in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean from January 1 through June 30, 2015. The main goal of these operations is to fight drug trafficking.
Two years ago the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation opened courses in Managua for training drug police. In May-June 2014 construction of a permanent center for training anti-drug-trafficking personnel will begin near the capital. Training of operatives for all the countries of Central America is planned at this center. The executive secretary of the Security and Defense Council of Honduras, General Julian Pacheco, stated: «We consider contacts with Russia in the field of security very useful and believe that this country can provide us with quite substantial assistance in the field of experience sharing and fighting organized crime and drug trafficking». Salvadoran Hugo Martinez, Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (SICA), has a high opinion of Russia's initiative to create a training center in Nicaragua. He has also stated that SICA supports an initiative to grant Russia observer status in the organization, which includes El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Representatives of these countries believe that there are great prospects for development of relations between the region and Russia.
Noticeable progress has been made in relations between Russia and Guatemala. In November 2013 during an official visit of Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera to the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry there was a presentation of the economic and investment potential of the Republic of Guatemala. A key moment of this event was the signing of an agreement on the encouragement and mutual protection of capital investments. The republic has traveled a difficult path from a military dictatorship (250,000 killed or missing) to a representative democracy. Only in 1986 did Guatemala transition to civilian government. The United States continues to control the politics and economy of this country, but part of its elite uses any opportunity to diversify international connections and weaken its dependence on Washington.
Guatemala has rich resources for effective economic activity and a varied mineral and raw materials base, including hydrocarbon fields. Russian-Guatemalan relations are becoming increasingly productive. Russia exports mineral fertilizers and rolled metal in exchange for coffee, cocoa, sugar, vegetable oils, etc. The mutual trade volume has grown from minimal figures to 130 million dollars today. Guatemalan businessmen are showing interest in Russian KamAZ trucks and GAZ and VAZ automobiles. Guatemala has an interest in Russia's support in increasing electrical energy capacities in building hydroelectric, geothermal and wind power stations, as well as in attracting Russian investors to take part in oil and gas extraction projects. Russian investors intend to participate in the development of Guatemalan nickel, cobalt, wolfram, zinc, titanium, mercury and antimony deposits.
Breakthrough achievements for Russia in Central America and the Caribbean are hindered by remnants of the Cold War and sabotage from the «fifth column» maintained by U.S. intelligence. Washington's policy with regard to Russia's «infiltration» of the region has not changed at all over the years.
In these circumstances, the Central American Common Market (CACM), which includes Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, advocates the creation of a free trade zone with the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Guatemalan ambassador Meneses Coronado spoke of these plans at a meeting at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and ambassadors and business representatives from CACM countries echo him in conversations with officials and entrepreneurs from Russia and Belarus: «For the progress of our economies, we need equal, mutually advantageous cooperation with industrialized powers. Just such a possibility is being offered by the Customs Union, whose members are facilitating the overall development of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua».
The United States' former «backyard» does not want to remain its appendage.