Editorial

Could Venezuela spark return of East-West Cold War?

Sunday, March 31, 2019

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Some experts currently believe that the introduction of troops from Russia into embattled Venezuela raises the spectre of the resurrection of the East-West Cold War.

At the end of World War II in 1945, the army of the then Soviet Union advanced into Eastern Europe and occupied several countries, installing Communist governments and thereby creating satellite states.

The Western allies, including the recently defeated Germany, led by the United States (US) decided to halt any further expansion of Communism but the Communist bloc expanded in 1949 when China became a communist country.

Both the Soviet Union and China expressed the objective of the international expansion of Communism, which the US remained determined to prevent. All three had arsenals of nuclear weapons making for a situation fraught with the danger of partial, if not total annihilation of human and other life on the planet.

In this tense atmosphere, all countries were expected to be in one camp or the other and both sides were prepared to engage in military and naval action, if necessary, resulting in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Neutrality was not acceptable and there were areas of the world where US spheres of influence were off limits to the Soviet Union. This prevailed in Latin America until the Cuban Revolution brought Communism in the face of a US trade blockade. The Cold War almost became a hot war during what transformed into the Cuban missile crisis in 1963.

The Cold War ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union and the liberation of the Eastern European countries, graphically symbolised by fall of the Berlin Wall. This also marked the end of support for Cuba from the former Soviet Union now Russia.

The Latin American and Caribbean region has been free of serious rivalry between the US and Russia and China. But recently the calm of more than 20 years was interrupted by US sanctions and opposition to disputed President Nicolas Maduro, followed by the introduction of Russian troops into Venezuela to support Mr Maduro.

The US has also hardened it stance on China's growing presence in Latin America and the Caribbean, notably in financing major infrastructure projects which have induced Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador to switch their diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

Last week, the Donald Trump Administration admonished Caribbean governments about what it described as China's “predatory economic practices”. This comes in the wake of the first-ever port of call in Antigua and Barbuda by a Chinese naval vessel, albeit a hospital ship.

Russia and China vetoed a US resolution on Venezuela tabled in the United Nations Security Council, clearly signalling that these powers intend to be players in Latin America and the Caribbean. China is Venezuela's biggest creditor to the tune of US$23 billion.

China is the second largest trade partner for Latin America and is a particularly important export market for Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Argentina.

Any return of the Cold War in the Caribbean would be a catastrophe for our region. We hope the current conflict will not escalate beyond these skirmishes.


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