Perhaps the biggest storyline going on in Latin America today is Venezuela’s economic crisis. The Venezuelan energy sector, historically its primary (and only) moneymaker, is in default, and the Venezuelan people are suffering because of it. However, there is an aspect of their story that has been flying under the radar that deserves attention, especially here in the United States.
We aren’t the only country that has eyes on our southern neighbors. Russia and President Putin are also interested in the affairs of Latin America and especially of Venezuela. As Venezuela has sunk into bankruptcy, Russia has taken advantage by buying out parts of their energy sector and delaying $3 billion of Venezuela’s debt payments. This ensures that they will profit when the government inevitably defaults.
This purpose of such a move is allegedly to destabilize the continent, which seems quite the accusation until you look at Russian policies in the region from the recent past. Former Russian president Medvedev attempted to create an alliance of Latin American states to secretly assist drug traffickers and terrorists in the area. Russian officials have been directly tied to weapons flowing to the Colombian insurgent group FARC and other similar groups on the continent.
Not only does this provide Russia economic gains, but it gives them more influence in the region and more opportunities to foster anti-American sentiment in their allies. Caracas is not their only focus; Russia is also trying to expand relations with and provide arms to both Bolivia and Nicaragua.
In sum, Russia is using the economic crisis in Venezuela to benefit itself, and their influence could potentially change Latin America’s geopolitical sphere in a way that could hurt the United States. Thus, we must remain wary and prepare a response before it is too late.