Tuesday, 20 October 2020

U.S. Military Targets Growing Russian and Chinese Influence in Latin America

The Air Force chief of staff pushes back during a visit to Colombia.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, returning from a trip to Colombia, said over the weekend that the Trump administration is making a push to strengthen alliances across Latin America as part of an effort to counter rising Chinese and Russian influence in the United States’ backyard.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Commander of the Colombian Air Force General Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas render salutes during a ceremony at the Memorial Heroes Caidos en Combate in Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 15, 2018. During the ceremony, which took place during his visit to country Nov. 14-15, Goldfein laid a wreath to honor Colombian troops lost in battle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Goldfein said Colombia and other Latin American countries risked being locked out of U.S. and allied operations if they stopped buying military hardware from the United States and turned to other markets instead.

“While there may be other cheap hardware out there that might be available on the market, at some point it becomes really hard to make it connect and share within the system,” Goldfein said by phone Saturday while flying home from Colombia.

- paying the bills -

His trip was part of a broader administration effort to reinforce alliances across Latin America as the region grapples with a range of security threats, from narcotrafficking and terrorism to Venezuela’s economic collapse and ensuing refugee crisis. During the two-day visit, which followed U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’s own South America tour in August, Goldfein met with Colombia’s minister of defense, commander general, and air force chief, and he spoke with students at the Colombian war college.

“When it comes to China and Russia, we are looking at cooperation where we can and pushing back aggressively where we must,” Goldfein said. “We keep a close eye on their activities globally, but certainly we keep an eye on their activities [in Latin America].”

Underlying the outreach effort, experts say, is U.S. recognition that China and Russia are quietly exerting economic and military influence in Latin America. China is a master at leveraging trade and direct economic investment for geopolitical gains, they say. Driven by a desire to tap into Latin America’s vast oil reserves, as well as to bolster anti-American sentiment, China has invested large sums of money in the region. It has surpassed the United States as the main destination for exports in seven countries in the region. In five of those countries—Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Peru, and Uruguay—China is now the largest export market. It has also been working with Argentina on a space station in Patagonia.

“The Colombians are concerned that the U.S. has been leaving the region behind, and it has created a void, this vacuum to fill,” said Moises Rendon, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He noted Colombia’s dilemma: It “can’t say no to China, because they are providing opportunities and investment, [while] the U.S. is not providing the same types of opportunities.”

Russia, meanwhile, is seen as less of a power player in the region but has sold billions of dollars of weapons to countries across Latin America. Unlike China, which wants to use Latin America’s natural resources for its own economic growth, Russia’s interest in the region is primarily strategic, Rendon said.

- paying the bills -

Both nations are using these commercial ties to support Latin American regimes that violate human rights and are antagonistic to the United States, particularly Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, with the end goal of undermining America’s influence in the region, analysts said.

“One very important concern for the U.S. government is that the Chinese are propping up [Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s] regime and other nondemocratic leaders like Nicaragua [and] Bolivia,” Rendon said.

The escalation of Chinese influence in Latin America is reflected in the number of nations in the region that now recognize Taiwan as part of China, according to Ana Quintana, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation. This group now includes El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

The goal is not just “sticking it to the Americans,” but also “amplifying their power,” Quintana said, noting the region’s wealth of oil reserves. Both China and Russia “want to be in a position to be a power broker in Latin America.”

The U.S. administration’s approach to countering Chinese and Russian influence in Latin America is rooted in building new alliances and strengthening the ones that already exist. Maintaining strong military-to-military ties is key, Goldfein said.

“There are times when our diplomatic relationships may change based on the political environment, but we are able to maintain a military-to-military relationship and dialogue,” Goldfein said. He stressed his close friendship with Colombia’s Air Force chief, Gen. Carlos Eduardo Bueno, and lauded the country for leading the region in promoting democracy.

- paying the bills --

“Colombia is really the gold standard for how you take the resources of the country and, through strong leadership and perseverance, you turn a country around and get it on a path toward democracy,” Goldfein said.

Ensuring U.S. and Colombian forces can operate seamlessly together involves not just frequent joint exercises, he said, but also using interoperable equipment. For example, the Colombian Air Force is a world leader in employing light attack aircraft to fight drug traffickers, a practice the U.S. Air Force is hoping to emulate against insurgents in the Middle East. The United States has in recent years provided A-29 Super Tucanos, the same aircraft the Colombian Air Force operates, to the fledgling Afghan Air Force, and it is now looking to buy that platform for its own pilots.

During the visit, Goldfein said, he and Colombian leaders discussed partnership opportunities “to protect the sovereignty of their airspace,” including potentially selling Colombia U.S. military aircraft such as F-16 fighter jets.

Reinforcing U.S. alliances in Latin America is also part of a “layered defense approach” to protecting America’s borders, Goldfein said. One current concern is the crisis of Venezuelan migrants, who are pouring into Colombia at rates of more than 4,000 a day. At the request of the Colombian government, Mattis this fall sent the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship USNS Comfort to Colombia to provide medical care for the migrants.

Another challenge the two air chiefs discussed is a recent spike in cocaine production across Colombia. Goldfein said the United States is exploring how it can help the Colombian government eradicate the coca fields.

“We need to be there for our Latin American counterparts for the good and the bad,” Quintana said. “This is a very critical time, because there is a lot of positives happening in the region.”

Article by Lara Seligman, FP’s Pentagon correspondent first appeared at Foreignpolicy.com.



"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Related Articles

The Failure of Socialism: Lessons for Latin America

PANAM POST - The fall of the Berlin Wall on November...

Costa Rica has the third highest average salary in Latin America

(QCOSTARICA) Costa Rica has the third-highest average salary in Latin America,...


Vandals set fire to patrol with cops inside

QCOSTARICA - A Fuerza Publica (National Police) patrol was set on fire with two officers inside Monday night in San Carlos, Alajuela, confirmed the...

Trouble in Paradise: Violence at protests threaten to unhinge IMF agreement in Costa Rica

QCOSTARICA - As the economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic takes shape around the globe, the Costa Rican government finds itself in an increasingly...

Countries Turn to Rapid Antigen Tests to Contain Second Wave of COVID-19

(Reuters) - Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays...

Tickets issued for not buckling up and use of cell phone at the wheel increased this year

QCOSTARICA - The increase in the number of fines issued for not wearing a seat belt and using a cell phone behind the wheel...

Reinas join OIJ to help women who suffer physical and sexual violence

QCOSTARICA - A few months ago, after being in an intense self-defense class, the partners, friends and beauty queens María Teresa Rodríguez (Miss Costa...

Murders on the rise in Costa Rica: 60 homicides in the last 28 days

QCOSTARICA - In the last 28 days, there have been 60 homicides, pushing the number of murders for the year to 438, according to...

Let's Keep This Going!

To be updated with all the latest news and information about Costa Rica and Latin America.

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.