On the first week in March the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, announced that the Quadrennial Defense Review reflects the realities of a tired and broken U.S. military incapable of stopping escalation by our enemies. There goes deterrence. Then, we announced that we are going back to pre-World War II military levels.
Not surprisingly, the Russians escalated in the Ukraine and decided to take Crimea. Unfortunately, we have become so dependent on Russia, politically speaking, that Russia/President Vladimir Putin is playing high-level chess and checking us at every opportunity. We did say that we needed their support to control the development of nuclear facilities in Iran, and they agreed.
Then we agreed to allow Russia to continue selling Iran key elements for their nuclear facility, trusting that the Russians would do the right thing. Russia shrugged its shoulders and continued selling items to Iran as we turned to another shiny object. Then, we drew lines in the sand and threatened military force unless the Syrians eliminated their chemical weapons. Putin assured us that he would take care of everything, and once again nothing happened after we stepped back.
And, alas, we need the Russians to deploy American astronauts to the Russian Mir space station, as our space program and delivery vehicles, such as the shuttle, were scrapped. We chose to instead pay the Russians to give our astronauts a ride into space.
As of now, we are in no position to influence anything. Our bald eagle is clawless. Putin is claiming the world, one region at a time, starting in his own backyard.
All this, while in our backyard Venezuela is on fire, with dozens killed by the national police, hundreds wounded, scores arrested and not to be seen again, and over a million protesters on the streets demanding that the communist, Cuban-supported repressive government of Nicolas Maduro resign and Chavez/Castro communism is replaced with democracy.
What is eerily absent is commentary from the international community as it waits for a strong U.S. position. Of course, we are the beacon of democracy, and taking care of our backyard would be foremost — you would think. Remember the Monroe Doctrine? However, we stopped caring about Latin America in 1990, with the exception of a few local folks believing that Cuba’s ties to Tampa and its future potential can be the economic savior of Florida. That may be so, but not at the expense of ignoring the No. 1 one priority of the low-hanging fruit of thriving economies in Latin America for investment here, today.
I do understand that the embargo has not been successful in toppling Cuba’s Castro. But I saw the Castro regime influenced by the Soviet Union and then Russia, as well as billions in investment by European resorts buying land in Cuba and investing in hotels for 45 years, and the Cuban people still live in misery.
I’m not sure how Cuba can help us in Tampa. Cuba has no money. The average income is $20 per month, and they can’t go to the airport to come to Clearwater and spend their $20. Cuba has defaulted on every loan we have given them since 1970, and repression continues unabated. Cuba has a hand out to the world, and it is still broke. It fights to maintain links to countries friendly to communism and totalitarianism, such as Venezuela, China, and Russia.
What we do know is that Venezuela’s state security has Cuban leadership within. We also know that Venezuela gives Cuba 150,000 barrels of free oil a day, equivalent to $3.5 billion (World Trade Organization 2012 report) We also know that when Venezuela’s communist regime falls, Cuba cannot pay for the oil. It will result in a Cuban economic collapse that even the billion dollars they get from money transfers from the United States will not solve.
Cuba is desperate to save the Venezuelan handout, and in typical Castro response they repress. Castro’s Cuba is an economic parasite to the world. And Tampa is a target for their parasitic desires.
Russia understands how “uncaring” our Latin American policy is, so, as we look at the rest of the world, the Russians, with the help of the Cubans and Venezuela, are peppering our backyard with influence.
Russia is capitalizing on the United States’ inaction by conducting for the past four years naval deployments to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. For eight years Russia has deployed long-range bombers to Venezuela. Now Russia is negotiating bases in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Singapore and the Seychelles — all in the sphere of U.S. influence, kicking us in the teeth in the process.
We announced to the world that in three years we will not have a military capable to deter. The belief is that the U.S. is irrelevant.
International military and political analysts are concerned that Latin America will owe a great deal to the Russian military deterrence as it validates the communist government of Nicolas Maduro and Castro-Chavez communism. Even if it falls, Russia is positioning itself to provide regional stability and dissuade any concerns about the flow of Venezuelan oil. Why aren’t we doing that?
As we ignore Latin America, with its buying power (Brazil, $245 billion; Panama, $18 billion; Peru, $41 billion; Chile, $78 billion), Russia and China absorb Latin America.
Unfortunately, there are elements in Tampa who believe that business with Cuba is the answer, with a measly global buying power of $6 billion and low monthly wages.
The Cuban government is repressing Venezuelan students and is committed to support terrorism, like the FARC guerrillas hiding in Venezuelan territory, while at the same time hypocritically hosting peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government, and supporting funneling millions of dollars a year through the Venezuelan government to Hezbollah (CNN, June 13, 2013).
So there you have it. The United States is ignoring Latin America for expanded trade and investment in the United States, ignoring the Russian expansion in the world, and allowing Russia to be a third-world economy with a first-world military. Astoundingly, we have ignored the significance of Venezuela, not only as an oil-producing state but as a key piece of Russian expansion and Cuban communism. We have chosen to ignore Venezuela as a terrorism-supporting state, with Cuban oversight.
We are conducting foreign policy suicide.
It is high time that options for economic investments in the U.S., specifically Florida, from capital-rich Latin American investors take center stage. Doing otherwise will allow the Russians, Cuba and China to influence Latin America any way they want.
Evelio “EJ” Otero is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. He lives in Tampa.