Zaa Nkweta, The Real News: Venezuela just announced that it plans to buy Russian tanks as well as Russian armed reconnaissance vehicles. At the same time, the Russian naval fleet is on its way to Venezuela to conduct joint military exercises. What do you make of this?
Forrest Hylton: On the one hand it’s highly symbolic obviously, because we haven’t seen this type of involvement with anything concerning the Russian military in the Western Hemisphere since the missile crisis under the Kennedy Administration, so it has many people sort of alarmed with the idea that Russia is now some kind of expansionist power, but it has to be understood in the context of the NATO’s effort to basically encircle Russia by incorporating the former satellite republics all along Russia’s borders. Russia is now exerting its own power within the region that has traditionally been considered off limits to any power besides the United States in line with the Monroe Doctrine. So, now, we are looking at a very different situation in which the United States is deeply involved in Eastern Europe and Russia is increasingly involved in Latin America. Of course, Hugo Chavez is looking for allies wherever he can find them in the developing world, China, Russia, Iran, and so forth, in order to decrease Venezuela’s dependence on the United States, both the United States government and the United States economy.
Nkweta: We’ve heard rumblings of pundits talking about a new Cold War. Is this what we are looking at right now? Or is that an overblown simplification of what’s going on?
Hylton: I think it’s reductionist in a lot of ways. On one hand, the United States’ approach to the Western Hemisphere really hasn’t changed that much since the Cold War. Now the rubric is anti-terrorism rather than anti-communism, but we still see the same formula of counter-insurgency wherever US interests are perceived to be threatened. Yet the basic fact of Russia’s incursion into the Western Hemisphere by a military means really comes on the heels of Russia’s incursion, and China’s incursion, into Latin America in terms of trade and investment. So, I think really that the military component of all this should not be allowed to overshadow the trade and investment. What Venezuela and other countries in the hemisphere are looking to do is to foster some sort of national capitalist development that would benefit the majority of the population, and they’re looking for allies wherever they can find them. The United States obviously has been an enforcer and supporter of neoliberal policies that impoverished the majorities of citizens in countries like Venezuela. So, it’s quite logical that Venezuela and other countries look for allies who can help them bolster their own national economies vis-à-vis the United States, which is obviously much larger and much stronger.
Nkweta: You talked about the manifestations of a multipolar world. Is this a sort of germination of that? Are we on the road down that course right now with these types of actions?
Hylton: Yes, I do, because I think what’s really important about the military maneuvers is simply the fact that the United States can’t intervene to stop them. I don’t see it in any way as a threat to the United States, and I don’t think it’s designed to be that way, although I think it is clearly designed to send a message to the United States showing the limits of its power. There is a very important book that has just come out of Metropolitan Books called The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism written by a retired army colonel who is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, and he argues that the United States empire has really badly overextended itself both militarily and economically in these disastrous wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, and therefore it’s really in no position to contest Russia’s play for influence on various levels within Latin America. And as the Russian ambassador to Bolivia stated quite recently, there’s no reason to continue to view Latin America as the United States’ backyard, because the leftward turn towards national capitalist development within Latin America has meant that these countries are very eager to sign all sorts of deals involving infrastructure, trade, and investment with whatever countries willing to do so, and Russia and China are very pleased that they have new allies in the Western Hemisphere.
Forrest Hylton is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006) and, with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He is a regular contributor to New Left Review and NACLA Report on the Americas. This interview was broadcast on the Web site of The Real News Network on 18 October 2008. The text above is a partial transcript of the interview.