World War 3: South America becomes ‘battleground for new Cold War’ with China and Russia

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The US election is heating up, with recent polls suggesting Joe Biden has a significant and steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as they head into the final stages. But Hilary Clinton also had a clear lead over Mr Trump for almost the entire 2016 campaign and ended up losing. When the President took office, he promised to put his own country first and claimed that Washington’s overreaching involvement across the world had put the US at a disadvantage.

But, Mr Trump’s “America first” policy may have instead isolated the nation at a time when Russia and China are on the rise, in what could lead to conflict in the future.

Washington has traditionally seen the majority of its long-term adversaries that lie in Latin America as a legacy of the Cold War when the Soviet Union actively courted nations in the continent.

After the fall of the USSR, Latin America seemed to become a geopolitical-free zone, but the climate shifted after a new generation of leaders in the likes of Venezuela and Bolivia, which challenged the US diplomatically and opposed Western power.

This has led to some South American countries turning to the likes of Russia and China and Professor of Global Affairs at the John Hopkins University, Hal Brands, believes it could soon “become a battleground in the new Cold War”.

He said: “As China’s economy has boomed over the last two decades, its presence in Latin America has grown as well.

“Chinese trade and investment surged nearly everywhere, not just countries run by radical populists.

“Chinese commerce and loans provided a lifeline to illiberal rulers such as Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro by reducing their vulnerability to US and Western pressure.

“Chinese military engagement followed, creating fears that Beijing may be trying to establish a strategic foothold in the Western Hemisphere.”

But, Prof Brands says China is not the only threat.

He added: “Russia has provided economic and diplomatic support to Chavez, Maduro and other autocratic rulers.

“It has sold jets, tanks and other weapons to populist governments, and resumed providing military technology and oil to Cuba.

“Moscow’s approach to Latin America today echoes Soviet outreach in the Sixties through Eighties.”

Prof Brands says this involvement in Latin America also has a “deeply competitive logic” as a way of keeping the US “off-balance” by investing on their doorstep.

He went on to explain how Venezuela could become a key player in this “new Cold War” scenario.

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The Venezuelan presidential crisis remains unresolved and who holds the office has been disputed since the opposition-majority National Assembly declared that Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-

The Venezuelan presidential crisis remains unresolved and who holds the office has been disputed since the opposition-majority National Assembly declared that Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election was invalid and appointed its president, Juan Guaido, to be acting president of the country.

Starting in June, however, it has been claimed that the Maduro regime orchestrated moves to disqualify party leaders, install its own supporters into key roles in three major opposition parties – including Mr Guaido’s.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) passed a June 26 resolution rejecting the moves and the legitimacy of the December elections.

In the months that followed, the Trump administration ramped up sanctions, but they were undermined by Russia, Cuba, Turkey and India – who helped support Venezuela, according to officials in both the US and Venezuelan opposition activists.

Prof Brand added: “The growth of Russian and Chinese influence in Latin America broadly, and Venezuela specifically, is a key reason the Trump administration has so uncharacteristically taken up the banner of human rights and democracy.

“By imposing harsh economic sanctions, calling for the military to desert Maduro, and backing the political opposition led by Juan Guiado, the Trump administration is seeking to deprive Moscow, Beijing and Havana of a critical partner in Latin America.

“The Chinese government has registered its opposition to the international campaign against Maduro’s government. it has continued to recognise his embattled government even as dozens of democratic countries have thrown their support behind Guiado.

“Russia has been far more assertive, denouncing Washington for trying to ‘engineer a coup d’etat’.

“It has warned against American military intervention, and symbolically dispatched two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Venezuela.”

“More concerning” observations came when Moscow dispatched 400 mercenaries to reinforce Mr Maduro’s praetorian guard and pledged additional economic support.

Prof Brand concluded: “There is a certain Cold War feel to the current crisis, with the US and its rivals lining up on opposite sides of a conflict over who should rule a key Latin American country.”

Amid the crisis, 96 percent of families in Venezuela were living in poverty at the close of 2019, including 80 percent in extreme poverty, according to a national survey released by a local university.

More worryingly, the country is under-equipped for the coronavirus pandemic, as barely half of the virus-dedicated hospitals have regular running water.

The severe crisis experienced by Venezuela led to an exponential increase in the number of migrants arriving in the US during the last decade.

Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden have tried to appeal to those voters by strongly criticising the Maduro administration – referring to the leader as a “dictator”.

From the White House, Mr Trump has been a strong supporter of Mr Guaido.

Debate persists over how far the US should go to usher in a transition of power in Venezuela.

Mr Biden supports targeted sanctions on regime officials and diplomatic efforts to pressure Mr Maduro to step down, but along with many other Democrats questions the wisdom of broader sanctions or a US military intervention.

The former Vice President said Trump has “taken a wrecking ball to our hemispheric ties,” pointing to his immigration policies and also to what Mr Biden sees as a “haphazard approach to the regional crisis in Venezuela”.

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