Why are the Russians present in Latin American waters?

In one of my previous diaries I wrote about the Bolivian crisis and Bolivia and Venezuela booting out the respective US ambassadors. This post is about what happened in the previous months, leading to the hateful relationship with the USA en the subsequent presence of the Russian fleet in the Latin American waters.

Having the US administration of Busch and Cheney in mind, the Latin American countries see in them the embodiment of the famous words of Frederick Douglas (1818 – 1895):
“There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”

US decision to reactivate the 4th Fleet is a matter of concern
The decision of the United States Navy ‘out of the blue’ to re-establish the 4th Fleet in order to have a higher profile in Latin American and the Caribbean waters raised concern in the hemisphere. The 4th Fleet emerged in 1943 during World War II, with the aim of protecting navigation and fighting Nazi submarines. It was deactivated in 1950, after being considered unnecessary by the US military sector.

The Venezuelan and Bolivian governments condemned the US announcement that warships will set sail on Latin American and Caribbean waters as of July 1 and termed it an insult to regional sovereignty. In their opinion, the reactivation of the 4th Fleet may provoke chaos, disorder and violence, and divide nations.

And they were not the only ones, who saw the dangers. Among others President of the NGO France-Libertés Danielle Mitterrand warned against US coup plans. In a letter published by local media, the former first lady, widow of late French President Francois Mitterrand, demanded the current US government to adopt a clear position regarding the Latin American countries.

But spokespersons for the US Navy insisted on saying that the move “is administrative in nature” and does not imply a bigger military presence. While Washington claims that this new navy component will not have “a military purpose, but one of cooperation.”

As from July 1, the 4th Fleet will be based in Mayport, Fla., while it will be responsible for more than 30 countries, covering 15.6 million square miles, focusing on the waters adjacent to Central and South America, the Caribbean Sea, its islands, the Gulf of Mexico and an area of the Atlantic Ocean.

Rumours claim that the 4th Fleet has appointed the new George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier and several submarines. The chief of the Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis, reasserted that the unit “will have never an offensive possibility. It is a promise.” (But we all know the value of a Busch/Cheney or for that matter a McCain/Palin promise)

According to the Southern Command, the 4th Fleet renewed operations accomplish five specific missions: responsiveness in the event of natural disasters, humanitarian operations, medical aid, antinarcotics efforts, and cooperation in environmental and technology matters.

However, Venezuelan authorities have doubts about the underlying intention of the move. They think that the United States government seeks to “scare” Latin American countries, as they move to the left, particularly Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Cuba, and more cautiously Brazil and Chile.

In Latin American view, the revival of the navy component is a threat, because the administration of President Bush uses humanitarian tasks to get valuable information in the theatre of operations, such as recognition, communications testing, and salinity testing.

Such assumptions have been dismissed by Adm. James Stavridis, who feels that “hardcore populism” does not endanger his country. “I think that in this region there are different ideas in terms of politics and economy. For the United States, they are democracy, free market, freedom, and human rights. There are other ideas in the region that compete with those, but they are not threats,” he said in a recent interview with the Argentinean daily La Nación.

But the treats are there, fresh in everybody’s memory.
The by the USA in conjunction with Spain orchestrated coup d’état in 2002 against the democratic elected president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the recent (diplomatic) intervention in the election of Fernando Lugo as president of Paraguay and the “physical” intervention in the crisis in Bolivia, are sufficient reasons for the Latin American countries to look for some ‘heavy’ friend. You can’t blame them that they turn to Russia (and China) at a moment they obviously can’t trust their neighbour any more. Latin America might be seen in the USA as its back-yard, but as the US doesn’t take care of it properly and with honour, the owners of that ‘back-yard’ have to call upon a faraway ‘barrel-chested friend’.

And here we sit with the consequences of the reactivating of the 4th Fleet.

A new Cold War in Latin American waters?
Two Russian strategic bombers, Tupolev TU-160, landed a week ago 60 kilometres outside the Venezuelan capital Caracas, at the Libertador Air Base, to “carry out training flights” in the region, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.
A few days before the arrival of the bombers Russia announced that it will dispatch a naval squadron to the Caribbean Sea and a spokesman for its navy, Igor Digalo, said that the vessels “will make a series of exercises, including joint manoeuvres, search and rescue operations, as well as telecommunication tests “, with its Venezuelan ally. The vessels would be the nuclear-powered cruiser “Piotr Veliki” (Peter the Great) and the anti-submarine frigate Admiral Chabanenko and probably anti-submarine aircraft.”
“We want to calibrate our defence capacity with our strategic allies, and Russia is such an ally,” Chavez said when the TU-160 arrived. Venezuelan Rear Admiral Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas said Venezuelan aircraft and submarines would be involved in manoeuvres with the Russians. “This is of great importance because it is the first time it is being done [in the Americas],” he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency and local media

Confirming the plans, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said it was not aimed against any third country.
(A same statement as the Americans have made. Who can we trust Bush/Cheney, McCain/Palin or Medvedev/Putin? Let’s hope there is an Obama/Biden alternative, so the choice is hopefully more obvious).

Although Argentine and Brazil expressed their concern, Brazil downplayed the announcement, but denoted later that:
The Brazilian Navy will practise a fictitious war to protect the “Blue Amazon”
After discovering huge reserves of fossil oil before the Brazilian east coast, which might make Brazil the number one oil-country in the world, out manoeuvring Saudi Arabia, the Brazilian government, without doubt the reactivating of the US 4th Fleet in mind, launched vast military operations in the so-called “Blue Amazon”, the 4.5 million square kilometres of Brazilian sea.

The combined navy and army manoeuvres simulate a war for control of the oil fields, pipelines and refineries on the coast of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.
With more than 10 thousand operational armed forces and 17 vessels, 40 aircraft and just over 300 military vehicles, the officers expect that the exercises guarantee the security of the riches of the Brazilian sea.
“The ‘Blue Amazon’ is as important as the ‘Green Amazon’. No more important, but as important,” said Admiral Edlander Santos, commander of the manoeuvres.

During the manoeuvres, the “green country” – composed of Rio de Janeiro, north of Sao Paulo and parts of Minas Gerais and Goiás – will attack the “yellow country” – Bahia and Espirito Santo – to get control over the mega-rich oil fields of Petrover, a fictitious state-owned company of the “green country”. The location of the manoeuvres is not random.

According to Admiral Edlander Santos, the manoeuvres also bring answers to any questions involving the defence of the area.
“Will we have the vessels and means to protect the 4.5 million square kilometres?” He asked. “Well let’s find out.”

The initiative to the presence of Russia in the Latin American waters is as a matter of fact the consequence of a US ‘invitation’.
For Thomas Gomart, analyst with the French Institute of International Relations, the sending of Russian military units “is a double investment for Moscow: increasingly questioning the hegemony of the United States and support for nationalization in the areas of energy”.

What were Busch and Cheney thinking when they ordered ‘out of the blue’ the reactivation of the 4th Fleet, without giving any information to its neighbours, not even its most solid ally, Brazil? What did they expect? Any reasonable thinking person could prophesise the reaction!