Tuesday, March 12, 2013

US, UK confront shifting alliances in Latin America, South Atlantic

The March 2013 issue of the Quebec monthly L’aut’journal publishes this informative article by its Latin America specialist André Maltais on some recent developments in the shifting international alliances involving Latin America — and now Africa. My translation from the French. – RF.

On June 6, 2012 the Pacific Alliance was formally created, linking Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. These four countries, writes the Peruvian economist Oscar Ugarteche, all have free-trade agreements with the United States and no such accords with MERCOSUR. Lacking major national industrial sectors, their role is not to compete with but to block the regional integration proposed by UNASUR.

On June 22, the deposition of Paraguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, struck at the very heart of UNASUR. But the reply by Brazil and its regional allies was quick: first, by accepting Venezuela as a member of MERCOSUR, and then (this is less known) by reviving the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone (ZOPACAS).

Created in 1986 as an initiative of Brazil and Argentina, the ZOPACAS is an alliance of 24 Latin American and African countries that includes two members of the BRICS (Brazil and South Africa), a member of the G-20 (Argentina), and two of the major global oil producers (Nigeria and Angola). Its major objective is cooperation to keep the south Atlantic free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

At the time, the conservative presidents of Brazil (José Sarney) and Argentina (Raúl Alfonsín) were worried about the Soviet presence in that part of the world. However, as Uruguayan international analyst Raúl Zibechi explains, the Western powers, including the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, feared South-South cooperation so much that they voted against the constitution of the ZOPACAS at the United Nations.

The alliance functioned sporadically; the ministerial meeting called by Brazil, held in Montevideo, Uruguay last January 15-16, was only the seventh to be held in 27 years.

But for the first time in its history, the ZOPACAS brought together the defense ministers of its member countries. They adopted an action plan to strengthen their naval and air capacity, and to plan joint military exercises in the South Atlantic.

Zibechi reports that the Division of geopolitical affairs and international relations of the Brazilian war college characterized the conference as the “greatest diplomatic success” of the government of Dilma Rousseff.

Since the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, which discussed that alliance’s global vocation as an intervention force, Brazil has feared a possible U.S. initiative to create a South Atlantic Treaty Organization (SATO).

When the NATO summit ended, the then Brazilian defense minister, Nelson Jobim, had criticized the NATO claims. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, he said, there was no further reason for an alliance that was now converting itself into “an instrument to advance the interests of its principal member, the United States.”

As a developing country that repudiates any colonial or neocolonial attitude, Brazil rejects the concept of shared sovereignty that the United States proposes for the South Atlantic. Brazil sees this region as its vital space for international reinforcement and multipolar insertion in the world.

Brazil, notes Zibechi, is the sixth largest economy in the world, and no less than 95% of its foreign trade passes through the South Atlantic. The importance of the ZOPACAS is also proportional to the growth of Brazil’s economic presence in Africa. For example, in Angola, a Portuguese-speaking country like Brazil, more than 200 Brazilian firms accounted for 10% of the Angolan GDP in 2007.

The Chilean geopolitical analyst Patricio Carvajal thinks the South Atlantic is of strategic importance to everyone, since it is the main point of access to the vast continent of Antarctica.

Great Britain, which has threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend the Malvinas [a.k.a. the Falkland Islands], has just named some 430,000 square kilometres of Antarctic territory Queen Elizabeth Land.[1]

With the explosive growth in the planet’s population, and the growing demand for food and fresh water resources, says Carvajal, the Jamaica Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) and the Antarctic Treaty (1959) will soon be relegated to the history of international law.

It is urgent, he says, that Latin America arm itself with a common maritime strategy and a naval force, the mainstay of which could be the Chilean military’s fleet of submarines, which is technologically comparable in development to that of such countries as China, Japan, India, Russia and the United States.

Caribbean maneuvers

But while NATO intrudes on the South Atlantic, Brazil and its allies in the BRICS are increasing their presence in the Caribbean, which Washington considers as almost its inland sea.

Over the last decade, says Nicaraguan radio’s political analyst Jorge Capelan, the PetroCaribe initiative, visits by the Russian fleet and even the announcement of plans for the erection of a Russian military base in Cuba, have stirred the waters, as did the recent re-election of presidents Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan government, which in November was re-elected with close to 70% of the popular vote, has announced plans to dig a canal that will soon allow the MERCOSUR countries easier access to the Pacific Ocean.

Nicaragua has just won a coastal waters dispute with Colombia, which was preventing Managua from building a deepwater port on its Caribbean coast on the pretext that it held sovereignty over some small islands located closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia. The judgment of the International Court of Justice (IJC) in The Hague not only found in favour of Nicaragua but granted it 75,000 square kilometres in additional coastal waters.

Colombia responded by withdrawing from the Pact of Bogotá (1948), under which the South American countries resolve to settle their differences peacefully and to recognize the supreme authority of IJC verdicts.

Although the Nicaraguan National Assembly, in the wake of Colombia’s reaction, appealed for assistance to the Cuban and Russian armed forces, Capelan believes Colombia’s reaction serves the interests of the United States as it sows discord within UNASUR, but especially because it opens the way to a confrontation with Nicaragua.

The United States needs an actor with some weight in the region, says Capelan, since the 2009 coup in Honduras did not produce the hoped-for results. Popular resistance has prevented Honduras’ transformation into an epicentre for low-intensity warfare similar to what Nicaragua experienced in the 1980s.

So while Colombia is become more involved in the Caribbean, the United States is increasing the anti-drug interventions of the Marines in Central America. In an article analyzing these interventions, the Vancouver investigative reporter Dawn Paley says that Operation Martillo, which has just ended after four months in Guatemala, was aimed at pushing the drug traffickers from the west coast of Central America toward the east coast, on the Caribbean.

And things are heating up elsewhere in the Caribbean. Last November 6, 54% of the voters in Puerto Rico rejected the island’s status as a colony of the United States.

[1] The islands are now thought to be lying on petroleum deposits of up to three times the current UK oil reserves. – RF.

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