In this latest installment of The Burn Bag, hosts A’ndre Gonawela and Ryan Rosenthal have a lively discussion on US interests in Latin America with Juan Cruz, who served on the National Security Council between 2017 and 2019 as the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere affairs and as a Senior Assistant to the President. Juan has had a deep role in shaping the Trump Administration’s approach to Latin America, and in this episode Juan discusses the political crisis in Venezuela, the ongoing terse relations between the United States and Cuba, and the current state of Colombia in the years following the peace agreement that was signed between the Government and FARC. Juan also provides some insights on broader US grand strategy for the region, in addition to where a potential Biden Administration or continued Trump Administration will take the United States policy-wise with regards to Latin America.
ON CHINESE IMPERIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA: “Chinese interest in the region is often predatory. It can take the form of exploitation of raw material — for example, Chinese companies coming into Guyana and signing agreements to go ahead to cut trees for export. Then the Guyanese trying to exert some sort of government control over the activities and the Chinese denying it. It became a nightmare. Soon it was uncontrolled, they couldn’t tell if the Chinese were cutting down the right trees in the right areas and taking the right precautions and respect, instead of scarring the Guyanese wilderness.”
Cuba and Venezuela: “The Cubans play a dark role in the Venezuelan military. They have contributed, through their intelligence apparatus, in sharing what they are able, to collect, to disrupt, and dismantle any grumblings, coup attempts, coup planning, or even coup discussion. Anything that can smell of disloyalty, the Cubans sniff it out and are able to help dismantle and end up arresting anyone who can be thinking, dreaming, or commenting on something like this.”
Russia interest in Latin America: “For the Russians this is an inexpensive way to play geopolitics and stick their thumb in the eye of Americans for a very low cost. As long as they don’t give away too much for free, they can sell it to the Venezuelan regime. As long as they can be mischievous and make life difficult for us, they’ll do that. And they do that because it is a return on the favor of Crimea and other places.”
On Russia and Venezuela: “As far as keeping in power, of course the Russians will like to do as much as possible. I think it’s easy to overestimate how much the Russians are interested in doing. I don’t think they’ll take extreme measures — they might talk big, but I don’t they’ll take particularly extreme measures. I don’t think they even like Maduro that much. I can imagine a scenario where Maduro visits Putin and Putin thinks, ‘This is my guy? This the guy I have to support?'”