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Strange Allies

Latin America is wary of the USA's presence and agenda, but not those of other powers, like China and Russia, increasingly present in the region.

Ciudad de México

For two centuries we Latin Americans have viewed the United States as a mixture of an imperial superpower that threatens us, and the kind of prosperous and open society we envy.

In politics, we learned to hate the CIA, but to admire the civil rights movement; we criticize the legacy of Bush, but we celebrate that of Obama. Meanwhile, the most radical have supported an anti-imperialism that refuses to acknowledge changes over time in neighboring behemoth.

However, we are hardly as wary when it comes to the presence and agenda of other powers. Paradoxically, these powers – whose history, culture and political regimes are very foreign to our bicentennial republicanism, democratic progressivism and Latin American social movements – are very active in the region today.

China, with its powerful mix of capital investment, offers of credit, and the massive purchasing of commodities, is banking on a slow and steady advance.

Russia, incapable of competing with China's burgeoning power, turns to technical/military collaboration and bilateral geopolitical alliances;: and, in the midst of all this, strategies and tactics inherited from the KGB seem to be taking on new life.

The reappearance in Latin American forums and publications of Nikolai Leónov, the veteran agent who recruited Raúl Castro in the land of the Aztecs, years before the revolutionary triumph, is eyebrow-raising. This is the man who trained Nicaragua's FSLN to carry out works of sabotage on the Mexican-American border. And who in Latin America implemented Yuri Andropov's strategy to discredit (through operations of psychological warfare and propaganda) and to beat back (through the triumph of allied regimes) the United States throughout the Third World, to crown its global defeat in the Cold War. The same Leonov who two years ago wrote the biography of the current Cuban president, packed with Leninist lexicon and a rejection of liberal democracy.

Also making a comeback are events organized by regional social science institutions and their Russian counterparts, affiliated with the Kremlin, such as diplomatic, economic and history academies, featuring ideologues and apparatchiks from the Soviet era.

Moscow's media network, including outlets like RT and Sputnik World, has become a source of information and voice for intellectuals backing Latin American populism and anti-imperialism. These are the same figures calling for the necessary expansion of democracy under their neoliberal governments, but who remain silent regarding manifestations of social conservatism and political authoritarianism and imperialism under Putin.

Latin America needs to forge alliances in a complex and convulsive world, in which a half-millennium of western global primacy seems to be giving way to a burgeoning Asia. But doing so by banking on extracontinental autocracies will not bring about greater social equity or respect for human rights.

This is not a clash of civilizations, with culture and faith as unshakable pillars. Rather, the problem is more conventional. We live under regimes where it is possible to oppose the government and, by peaceful means, reform the state. It is a matter of choosing whether we will ally ourselves with powers where the regime, state and government are all one and the same, and an oppressive one, alien and hostile to our idea and experience as citizens; or count on other satraps, liberally supporting their Latin American allies, to get rid of our oligarchs.

This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is published here with the author's permission.

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