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Foreign Policy Centre

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Latin American Disturbances

By Thiago de Aragao.

Latin America is once again the scene of political disturbances after some months of relative stillness. The situation in Honduras, which has brought the idea of military coup d'état back to the continent, is yet to be clearly defined. Roberto Micheletti's non-recognised government has been very tough on the sanctions threats it has received.

Since Manuel Zelaya, the overthrown President of Honduras, was arrested and extradited, we could identify how important players in the continent started to find their position. Hugo Chávez, from Venezuela, was the first to stand up for the use of force so that his ally, Zelaya, could rule again. Much more used to rhetoric than to practice, Chávez gave a deadline to Micheletti accept Zelaya's return, or he would have to "face the consequences of the use of force". As we could expect from Chávez, the deadline came and nothing happened. The USA's government attitude – and particularly Obama's – was a nightmare for Chávez. Obama agrees that Zelaya should come back and that Micheletti must leave the government immediately, i.e., the antagonism Chávez has been growing for years with the USA government did not take place in this specific and highly important fact. As the Venezuelan ruler's speech feeds from the confrontation with the USA, a situation in which both are in the same side is no good for the maintenance of the Bolivarian speech.

Meanwhile, the situation in Honduras drags on. The overthrown President does not have the popular support he would like to enjoy; thus, there is no public pressure for his return. At the same time, the new government does not seem to care about any kind of sanction. As there are no leaders inconsequent enough to engage in an armed conflict against Honduras, the situation is totally in the hands of the coupists. The most likely scenario for this situation would be Zelaya's return with the promise of anticipated elections. Thus, it is more likely that a third political force, non-linked to Zelaya or Micheletti, arises with sufficient strength to win.

Because of what happened in Honduras, conspiracy theories blossom. Strong rumors indicate that military coup d'états won't stop after the isolated fact that took place in Honduras. Some people believe and some would bet that Paraguay would be the next. As Venezuela was partially immobilized in this case, thanks to the North-American attitude of sharing the same opinion regarding the military overthrow, people's attention turned to a curious fact in the continent. The recent announcement that the USA would build three military bases in Colombia was everything Chávez needed. He got lucky because this fact took place at the same time in which Venezuelan weapons made in Sweden were found with the FARC, obviously weapons donated to terrorists. American bases, a more relevant issue, veiled the confirmation of another tie between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.

As usual, Chávez took his ambassador out of Bogotá and immediately denounced a plan of an American invasion against his country. Colombia, just like the USA, preferred to remain silent. However, the South American community in general was upset. Lula demonstrated his concern over the continent militarization process, while Chile's President, Michelle Bachelet, said the same.

Behind the scenes, the Venezuelan response will be stronger that simply using the old rhetoric and taking their ambassador out of their neighbor country. The Russian government was offered the opportunity of placing military bases in Venezuela. In the talks between the two countries, however, Russia made it clear they have no interest whatsoever in having military bases in South America. There are more strategic points in Asia for Russia to build bases. Yet, the Venezuelan counterproposal was really interesting for the Russians: the building of a Russian military base for the manufacturing of weapons where the main buyer would be the very Venezuelan government. With the ongoing negotiations involving, above all, business, we can foresee another series of controversies between Venezuela and Colombia. If there is a clear concern regarding the American bases that are to be built in Colombia, the Venezuelan response shows that it is not interesting to solve the case, but disturb the "opponent" more and more.

The Brazilian response, via Palácio do Itamaraty, was to reject the militarization in the continent. There couldn't be another response from a country that, given its size, is the leader in the continent. This "arms race" certainly turns our continent into a more interesting place, but the huge quantity of irresponsible leaders turns it into a more dangerous place as well. But the uncertainty of Brazil regarding the building of bases or the purchase of weapons can be considered a little hypocritical. In the middle of the purchase of nuclear submarines, combat helicopters and fourth generation fighter planes, Brazil is arousing the need to buy weapons also in Argentina, Peru and Equator.

On the other hand, Brazil must strengthen their Armed Forces in order to comply with another global power requirement. The curious fact is that, in the case of Brazil, the sovereignty expected from technology transfers, which encompass contracts under negotiation to buy helicopters, submarines and aircrafts, can end up in the hands of a sole supplier, France. Sovereignty would be masked under the fact that just one country would "control" the strategic weaponry supply for the most important country in South America.

What is the importance of it all? While governments in Brazil, Chile and other countries criticize the militarization process in the continent, we have been watching Latin America become the stage of a dispute for gaining influence involving three political superpowers in the world geopolitical scenario: USA, France and Russia. As we already know, France has military bases in the French Guiana, Russia will possibly establish one in Venezuela, besides the three bases the USA is building in Colombia. This strip of land, in the North of the South American continent, will become one of the most important points in the planet, not only because it is so close to the Amazon, but also due to the tension created by one man (Chávez), the terrorist guerilla in Colombia (FARC, AUC) and the military modernization process undergone by the biggest country in South America, i.e. Brazil.

If Brazil criticizes this arms race, they should set the example, to prevent the creation of a stage for geopolitical disputes in the continent. Buying strategic weaponry from only one country justifies, at least a little, the concern of our neighbors to go through a process of military modernisation.